Resident Spotlight: Ellen & Bill Sayle

Ellen & Bill Sayle

Thankful and Optimistic

A love story is usually made of several parts. This is certainly true in Ellen and Bill Sayle’s story. One part is about the love which Ellen and Bill Sayle have for each other. They will celebrate their 61st wedding anniversary this month. Another part of their story is Bill’s experience with his physical heart – a heart transplant survivor of twenty-two years! The third part, if known, would be about the family who made the difficult decision to give the heart of a dying loved one. 

All stories have a beginning. Ellen and Bill met on a blind date. A friend coerced Ellen to “go out” with Bill. “Well”, she agreed, “I’ll go just this one time”. We know what happened in this part of the story! Ellen and Bill married on September 7, 1959.

Ellen was born in Batesville, Arkansas in 1937, the youngest of 4 children, Ellen says she had a happy childhood – “I was spoiled by everyone”. Following graduation from Batesville High School, Ellen enrolled in Baptist Hospital School of Nursing, Memphis. She remained employed at Baptist as a Registered Nurse, taking time off as life experiences required. 

Bill was born in Memphis in 1935. He graduated from Messick High School in 1954 and enjoyed being on the football and baseball teams. After high school, Bill served in the Army for 2 years as a Combat Engineer in Korea. Following discharge, Bill enrolled in Memphis State University. During his first year, he played on the baseball team. Following college, Bill became employed by Chrysler as a Parts Distributor. He remained at Chrysler as long as his health permitted. 

Ellen and Bill have two sons, Brian and Craig. Their sons have four children each and there is one great-grandchild expected soon. Ellen and Bill spent much of their time attending sporting events when their sons and grandchildren were young. Bill coached youth baseball for many years all over the Mid-South.

At the age of forty, Bill suffered a heart attack. He attributes this to the life style of traveling, eating the wrong foods, etc. A year later, triple by-pass surgery was performed, followed by implants of a pacemaker and a defibrillator. The defibrillator was very bulky and produced a heavy weight in the body. Yet, Bill survived with this for ten years. Then, shocking news came as Bill’s heart function declined. The doctor informed Bill that he needed a heart transplant, otherwise, he had only about two months to live. The entire family helped make the decision. The first heart transplant was done in Memphis in 1985, yet, many fears concerning the surgery, rejection and a life of medications had to be contemplated. Bill decided the transplant was the only alternative. He was required to stay in the hospital until a heart became available because an intravenous medication was necessary to maintain heart function and keep Bill alive. Bill endured 3 months of hospitalization before the “new” heart was available. During this time, Bill said Ellen was a very good nurse, staying with him in the hospital.

On July 11, 1998, Bill had a heart transplant. The surgery went well and Bill was discharged home after ten days. To everyone’s relief, there was only one minor occurrence of rejection following surgery and Bill has continued to do well for twenty-two years! He recently had a heart catheterization and an intervention was recommended. However, due to the Covid-19 virus, and assurance that he is not high risk, Bill has elected to delay any procedure for awhile. 

Ellen & Bill on a Dinner Date, 1990
Ellen & Bill on a Dinner Date, 1990

The third part of the story is about the family who gave the heart of a loved one to Bill. Usually, the recipient of the heart never knows from whom the heart was “harvested”. However, there is an interesting aspect to this story which occurred while Bill was visiting with a group of people. In conversation with a man in the group, Bill learned that the man’s occupation involved transporting donated hearts to the locations needed. Then, Bill began telling him about his heart transplant. The man asked Bill the date of his surgery. According to Bill, “this guy’s eyes opened real wide, he smiled and said, ‘I’m the one who flew to Johnson City, Tennessee and brought your new heart to Memphis’”! No names were given but Bill learned that his new heart came from an eighteen-year-old boy. Imagine the love for others that the young man’s family must have had to make that difficult decision! “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about and be grateful to that boy and his family”, says Bill.

In 2018, Ellen suffered an illness and became increasingly weaker. The decision was made to move to Kirby Pines. Ellen already had a sister, Margaret Tanner, living here. Both Ellen and Bill state, “We have enjoyed making new friends and becoming involved in the activities here”. Both attend Sunday church services here, formerly attending Fisherville Baptist Church. They both exercise in the Oasis. Ellen attends the Book Baggers and the Sewing Club. Bill serves as Wing Leader, sings in the Entertainers Chorus and participates in the Saturday morning Men’s Group. 

What a wonderful couple are Ellen and Bill Sayle. They are thankful for so many things in their lives and they remain optimistic with a strong religious faith.

Written by Joan Dodson, Resident, Kirby Pines