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Giving in Action: Finding heart in a lung transplant

Posted by on Wednesday, February 28, 2018 in Giving in Action, Vanderbilt Community, Winter 2018 .

Barbara Rosser Merz and Glenn Merz both lost spouses to a rare lung disease, but found each other and a renewed sense of gratitude.

When her husband, Vernon,  received his lung transplant at Vanderbilt in 1997, Barbara Rosser started a support group for lung transplant families. The group met frequently, helped one another during difficult times and spoke to new transplant candidates. Glenn’s wife, Joyce, received a new lung and joined the group in 1998.

“Little did I know that the people in that first lung transplant support group would become my best friends and the group would grow so large and help so many,” Rosser Merz said.

After the death of Vernon in 2002 and then Joyce in 2003, their spouses found that they understood what the other had endured and each other’s loss. Slowly their strong friendship grew into romance, and the two married in 2004.

“We felt like Vernon and Joyce were pulling strings from above, trying to make sure we ended up together,” Rosser Merz said.

“When Vernon was close to dying, he kept telling me he wanted me to remarry Glenn. I told him I didn’t want to hear any more about it. Vernon was best friends with Joyce who was also one of my best friends. We all went through so much together for so many years,” she added.

Every life saved through organ transplant also means a life has ended. Vernon Rosser had reached out to his donor’s family and learned that their 20-year-old son had been killed by a drunk driver. Rosser Merz said the parents felt comfort that others could live through their son’s death.

“Vernon used to wonder why he got to live while another had to die. But there is no telling how many lives Vernon touched in the five and a half years after his transplant — through a warm hug, a ready smile and his enthusiastic promotion of organ donation which is needed by so many. It was his legacy,” Rosser Merz said.

The Merzs’ gratitude and the legacy of their spouses is expressed in the scholarship they founded for the School of Medicine, the Barbara R. and Glenn H. Merz Scholarship. Barbara and Glenn Merz also recently completed a book about their journey, “Our Story: The True Life Narrative of God’s Plan for Us.” The proceeds from the sale of the book go toward their scholarship fund.

Blair Stocks, VUSM class of 2018, is one of the grateful MD/PhD candidates supported by the Merz scholarship.

“I am so thankful for this gift of a medical education. I hope to lead a transplantation laboratory that unravels the biology of immune regulation to improve transplant outcomes. Upon completion of Vanderbilt’s MD/PhD program, I plan to pursue a fellowship in transplant surgery followed by post-doctoral training in transplantation science,” Stocks said.

Glenn Merz says that transplant recipients inspire people with their thankfulness for another day of life and take nothing for granted.

“Creating more doctors who can help improve the transplant process is our way of paying tribute to our spouses, who had so much to show us about how to really live and the power of faith and friends,” Merz said.