Monday, May 21, 2001

Teacher's heart transplant inspires Hughes


Students get valuable lesson from afar

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Jim Maurmeier continues to recuperate from a heart transplant in Cleveland, but his Hughes Center students still haven't recovered from the absence of their beloved math teacher.

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Jim Maurmeier with wife Jen and sons Zachariah and Noah.
(Courtesy of Linda Benken)
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Hughes Center students Mary Williams and Brandon Smith send an e-mail to Maurmeier.
(Tony Jones photo)
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        They say their grades have dropped. They miss his patience when they didn't understand their algebra problems. They miss the way he treated them like family. Teachers and staff miss him, too.

        The University Heights school has rallied around Mr. Maurmeier. Students e-mail him. Teachers write checks to help with expenses. They're checking to see if they can give him some of their sick days when his run out in October. The school is holding a raffle to raise money Friday.

        All this to pay back the 36-year-old Price Hill man who pushed himself for them, despite his heart condition.

        “I want you to know that I miss you very much,” Brandon Smith, 15, wrote in an e-mail to Mr. Maurmeier last week. “My grade in your class was a C but now since you left it is a F. I think that you are a good role model and a (father) that I never had. I pray every night that you would come back ... healthy and strong.”

        Mary Williams, 16, wrote: “I know when you were here some of us actually came to school just to see you ... We love you and miss you. Get well soon.”

        Mr. Maurmeier, in his fifth year at Hughes Center, was diagnosed with congestive heart failure in February 1999. He was open with his students,

        but they said they didn't know how serious it was — until the day in March he went into the hospital and didn't come back.

        Since University Hospital's transplant unit is closed because of mold, he was airlifted to Cleveland Clinic on April 17. He was on the transplant list four days before receiving a new heart April 23. The average wait is 139 days.

        “My husband is very slight, so he was able to take a woman's heart or a man's heart or a teen's heart,” said Jen Maurmeier. “They called it "an 11th hour miracle' that he got a heart.”

FUND-RAISERS
  • 3 Mile Run/3 Mile Walk: “A Heart for Jim” will be held 8 a.m. to noon Saturday at Oak Hills High School track, 3200 Ebenezer Road, Bridgetown. For more information: 661-8418 or www.aheartforjim.com.
  • Raffle: Hughes Center is sponsoring a raffle for a color TV to benefit the Maurmeier Family Fund. Raffle tickets may be purchased for $5 each by calling 559-3099. The drawing will be held Friday.
  • Donations: Donations may be made to the Maurmeier Family Fund savings account at any Fifth Third Bank.
        The students asked questions about whether Mr. Maurmeier could have a woman's heart or a black person's heart. The school's student body is about 85 percent black. They want to know about the donor.

        “We don't even know if it was male or female because of the privacy issues,” Mrs. Maurmeier said. “Too, you've got to think that family is grieving because they have experienced a great loss.”

        Back at Hughes, Principal Bob Suess said Mr. Maurmeier's absence has been “devastating ... He was just one of the people who seemed to be everywhere and involved in everything for the benefit of kids in the school. I'd give my left arm for 150 teachers like Jim Maurmeier.”

        Despite his debilitating illness, he said, Mr. Maurmeier never lost his sense of humor or his will to work. “He nearly pushed himself to his death.”

        Mildred Kennedy, program facilitator for the high school for communications at Hughes, said she's never seen a staff come together as it's done for Mr. Maurmeier. And, she's never seen so many kids affected.

        “Kids depend on him not only as a teacher, but as a father figure,” she said. “I think some of them have lost their focus and direction in his absence.”

        Students miss his sense of humor, his quote of the day that taught them a little about life, his guidance and his teaching skills.

        Staff and students have raised or contributed more than $3,000 for the Maurmeiers so far. They hope to raise $10,000. Besides Hughes, the couple's churches, St. William's Catholic Church and Cheviot United Methodist Church, are holding fund-raisers.

        A heart transplant costs between $150,000 and $200,000, but the Maurmeiers must pay 20 percent of the physicians' fees. What's more, they have other expenses associated with Mrs. Maurmeier staying in Cleveland. Family and friends are caring for their two sons, Zachariah, 6, and Noah, 4.

        The Maurmeiers feel blessed by all the support. “He's just now being able to start talking about how remarkable it is,” his wife said. “Before, he would get choked up and couldn't even speak. I don't think you ever fully realize how much people think of you until something like this happens.”

        Mr. Maurmeier is now living in outpatient housing and hopes to be home for the couple's 12th wedding anniversary June 10 and Father's Day. His goal is to be back at Hughes on the first day of school this fall.

        “He hates being away from school,” his wife said. “He loves his kids, and he misses them.”



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