Couple spreading faith, hope and love

Published 9:59 am Thursday, January 10, 2019

Faith. Hope. Love.

It’s the mantra that guides James “Honey Bun” Fowler and his wife, Wanda White Fowler.

And it’s what they hope to bring to others as they share their life experiences and philosophy. Both are writing books.

But for now, they’re just thankful that James is still alive.

At age 44, doctors told him his congestive heart failure was so bad there was nothing they could do. That was 10 years ago.

The symptoms had been building. He had gone on a “health kick” and lost weight, but it didn’t help. He couldn’t keep his breath. He tired easily.

“I gave up,” he said. “Then one day I said, ‘I ain’t going out like this’.”

He was worried about getting fired at work, because he didn’t have the energy to keep up. Then he broke his ankle, and it didn’t heal. A Pacemaker was installed. He had strokes, and a heart attack. He had a machine that went with him that helped to circulate his blood. He was declared disabled.

“My body was wore out. Done. They told me I shouldn’t have played football all those years.”

James played at Davie High, and still enjoys watching games on television.

When he changed doctors and hospitals, things started to be more positive. He didn’t like that machine, or the idea of a machine keeping him alive, but it gave him more energy.

Then, on Aug. 11, 2018 – he got a call on his cell phone while returning home from WalMart. He remembers well where he was on Ijames Church Road. The caller from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center asked him to pull over. He did.

“She said, ‘We’ve got you a heart’. I was numb. My wife was screaming.” They drove straight to the hospital.

Within a day and a half, he had a new heart, from a 33-year-old man. “I’m 21 years younger now,” he said. “They call my wife a cougar.”

His old heart was so enlarged it couldn’t fit in the pan the doctors used. His new heart fit in the palm of one’s hand.

The surgery was on Aug. 13, and his father, his rock and hero, died on Aug. 22.

“All he was waiting for was for me to get a heart. I missed the last 11 days of his life laying in a hospital.” He got permission to attend the funeral, but said he’s still not properly mourned his father.

The first three months after a transplant are the toughest, with doctors telling him not to worry while prescribing some 60 pills a day. Still, he has nothing but praise for the doctors and staff at Baptist.

“Thank God I’m here. I’m proud to be a house husband.”

They have three grown children – Anesha Fowler, Jordan Fowler and Gary White Fowler. He spends most mornings looking after his 2-year-old grandson, Drew Thomas Fowler. “It’s off to the races – me and Drew. We make our daily trip to Wal-Mart (where he walks a mile or two.).” He fixes dinner, and tries to keep the house straight. “I see what these housewives are talking about.”

He also loves mowing and yard work. He sings while mowing, and one day a couple stopped and told him they loved watching because he was always happy.

“I’m just happy to be alive. Someone gives you a death sentence and you live through it?”

Wanda hopes that telling their stories, and there are more, that they can help others.

“Our story is a story of hope,” she said. “We want to give hope to people.”

While he was sick, she went to college and earned two degrees. She had to take time off from work to help care for James, and the stress got so bad that she needed help, too.

The week before the transplant, she had reached her breaking point, and sought help.

“Then, a day later we got the call that he got a heart. I said, God knows how much a person can stand. People who are going through things, no matter what it is, they should keep hope. I know our purpose is to tell people our story.”

Like getting the heart. Since the deceased had donated all of their organs, the heart was the last to be harvested. Then there was a question of whether it could be delivered from New Jersey to North Carolina because of weather. She made it clear to hospital staff that her husband was going to get that heart.

The transplant surgery started at 5:30 a.m. He was in recovery by 10:45.

“When I walked into that room, that was the most handsome, good-looking man I had ever seen,” she said. His skin color had immediately changed from grey to normal.

James talks to other people at the hospital going through similar situations, and is signing up to be a regular volunteer. Staff there calls him “the poster boy.” “He did everything the doctors asked him to do,” she said.

The couple has three children – Anesha Fowler, Jordan Fowler and Gary White Fowler. And the family hasn’t quite settled in to their new normal yet. James still has to be careful. Her sisters help keep them supplied with bottled water and sanitizing wipes.

But they still have hope, guided by their faith. And their love for one another is obvious.

“It was all God,” she said. “No matter what you’re going through, there is always hope. It’s not going to be easy, but there is hope.”