FRESNO, Calif.-If Blackstone Tire & Auto Accessories owner Steve Lawrence told you his age, you'd call him a liar. ``Seventeen weeks,'' he'll say.
Never mind that he looks 48.
Actually, it was about 17 weeks ago that Mr. Lawrence lay unconscious on a University of Stanford Hospital operating table while doctors labored for four hours to give him a new heart.
Today, although his immune system is still having trouble accepting the foreign organ, he is anxious to return to work at the retail tire store he purchased from BFGoodrich in 1974.
``I'm just grateful to be here-to get a second chance at doing the things I enjoy,'' Mr. Lawrence said during a June 2 interview. ``I'm 17 weeks old again.''
Doctors still aren't sure what went wrong with Mr. Lawrence's old heart. In fact, they didn't know anything was wrong with it until he was about 30, although he said he remembers that, as a child, he never had the athletic stamina other children seemed to have.
For some reason, Mr. Lawrence's heart just couldn't keep beating at a normal 70 times a minute. At times during the day, it would fail to beat for as long as six seconds. At others, it would beat as fast as five times each second.
To regulate his heartbeat, doctors gave him medication and then, in 1987, a pacemaker. Last February, he was place donor waiting list for a new heart.
``All these years I just dealt with it,'' he said. ``I tried to not let it ruin my life.''
For a full year, Mr. Lawrence waited with a tiny beeper constantly strapped to his side for word that a suitable heart had been found. It was a year in which he found himself unable to do more and more of the things he enjoyed, including running his Fresno-based, single-outlet retain and wholesale operation.
``It didn't always feel like I had my boxcars in order,'' he joked after saying his condition and medication he was taking to treat it soon forced him to stay home from work.
Then on Feb. 4, while Mr. Lawrence sat in his doctor's office undergoing the same tests he had grown so accustomed to, his beeper beeped-a heart had been found.
``I was ready,'' he said. ``I knew I didn't have too much time left, and I was ready to get on and do something.''
Doctors removed Mr. Lawrence's heart, which had grown through fatigue to the size of a soccer ball, and inserted the donor organ. The operation went smoothly. Then things began to go wrong.
It took Mr. Lawrence 13 days to wake up from the operation, after which he had to spend an additional week in intensive care.
Three weeks later his body began to reject its new heart. That meant three more days in intensive care.
Now, his immune system is again fighting the organ, though not a vehemently as before.
``After I get through this, things should be alright,'' Mr. Lawrence said.
When things finally are ``alright,'' he intends gradually to become more involved with Blackstone Tire operations.
``I plan to come back as I get more strength,'' he said. Doctors have already allowed him to move back home froam an apartment near the hospital. ``With all the (physical) adjustments I'm making, that should take about a year.''