Tom Christerson may not consider himself a hero, but many in Central City, including his son Ken, look at him that way.
Sept. 13 marked one year since Mr. Christerson, a former tire dealer, received an artificial heart implant at Jewish Hospital in Louisville, Ky. He is the lone survivor with an AbioCor artificial heart and the longest living recipient. He was released from the hospital April 16.
``I went through that (surgery) with a breeze,'' Mr. Christerson said, reflecting on the procedure. ``We had lots of prayers.''
``It seems like it's just flown by,'' Ken Christerson said. ``Just like a blur, really.''
To mark the anniversary, Jewish Hospital held a reception for Mr. Christerson that included every doctor and nurse who had ever dealt with him, Ken said. Abiomed Inc., the manufacturer of the AbioCor heart, visited the Christersons in Central City and took them to dinner.
But perhaps the most touching tribute to Mr. Christerson came from his hometown. On Sept. 15, the Christersons threw a ``low-key'' party with cake and ice cream. At least 200 people stopped by throughout the day to show support, Ken said, noting that ``word gets around in a small town.''
Today, Mr. Christerson, who admitted he's ``tickled'' to be alive, visits his friends at local coffee shops and continues to undergo physical therapy. He has lived to see the birth of his first great-grandchild and will celebrate his 55th wedding anniversary next month.
Some days he visits his son at Pace Tire Center Inc., which Mr. Christerson founded in 1958. He said he does everything he likes-except for hiking or sports-until he gets ``short-winded.''
``My life is normal-as much as it can be,'' Mr. Christerson told Tire Business. ``I'm still restricted on a few things, but not many.''
One of those restrictions includes no driving, a precaution to keep Mr. Christerson from causing an accident if his heart malfunctioned while he's in a vehicle, Ken said. Mr. Christerson said he doesn't ever worry about his heart stopping.
``You're going to live until you die,'' he said. ``Nothing you can do about it anyways. I just hope for the best.''
Ken said his father is going to try to attend a reunion of his Army buddies and go to a NASCAR race before the end of the year. Mr. Christerson also has been out boating and hopes to go one more time, depending on how he feels.
Ken and his sister Patty Pryor own Pace Tire Center-Patty operates the Greenville, Ky., location and Ken the Central City store.
Jewish Hospital recently interviewed Mr. Christerson in honor of the anniversary of his historical surgery, and he told them that ``I don't think of myself as a hero. I'm just a guy who wanted to live,'' according to Ken, who disagreed with his father's assessment.
``A lot of people think of him as a hero, and of course I do too, though my opinion is a little biased,'' he said.