PERU – Veteran Lincoln firefighter Chris Jones suffered a heart attack while battling a house blaze in 2012, knocking him out of work for several months.
The medical episode damaged the left side of his heart, leaving the right side to try and compensate. He had stints put in to prevent blockage, but eventually was forced to have surgery to install an artificial heart. The procedure helped, but his condition never really improved.
Jones, a 29-year firefighter and paramedic, was placed on the heart transplant list in Sept. 2016 and remained on the list until earlier this year.
On Feb. 26, 2018, 23-year-old Justin Haystrand, a running back for the Peru State College football team, was riding in a 2007 Honda Accord that collided with oncoming traffic near Road Q south of Nebraska City. Haystrand passed away from his injuries.
Haystrand was an organ donor from New Port Richey, Fla., a decision he made when he turned 16 without his parents knowing.
Nebraska’s 308th heart transplant surgery took place on March 1.
With a new heart thanks to their son, Jones met the Haystrand family and some of Justin’s teammates after the transplant in Omaha. They all had an opportunity to hear Justin’s heart again, a heart that saved another man’s life.
“Denise, (Justin’s) family – they can’t say enough,” Jones said. “Justin just was a wonderful person. He talks to me everyday, sitting here in my chest. He talks to me, tells me how he loves his family and for me to takeover and take care of them.”
Jones made his first ever trip to Peru and the Oak Bowl to be with the Haystrand’s and the Bobcats during their Senior Day celebration this weekend.
When talking with the team before Friday’s practice, Jones says Head Coach Steve Schneider had to console him after he broke down emotionally.
“Seeing all those faces looking at me and the teary eyes and pouting lips from these big old boys out there, it was hitting them hard, too. I was there to present them with their own challenge coins that honor Justin and myself.”
One of those challenge coins was used for the coin toss before Peru State hosted Culver-Stockton in the final home game of the season. Jones had the honor of flipping the coin at midfield. He then presented each of the referees with a coin of their own.
Jones just received permission from medical staff to return to work with no restrictions. The 50-year-old has been with the City of Lincoln Fire Department for 17 years and also provides security at Pinnacle Bank Arena during concerts and other shows.
He’s now a lifelong Bobcat fan.
>> The Peru State Cheerleading team honored their fallen teammate Kaelia Nelson during halftime of Saturday’s game. Kaelia passed away earlier this year. She was an active participant in pageants her entire life and was recently named Miss Alliance in 2016, Miss Chadron in 2017, and would have been a two-time competitor at the Miss Nebraska Pageant this past summer. Kaelia’s talent selection at her pageant always included a dance piece. Her heart and soul were put into her dances. The cheer team dedicated their performance to Kaelia’s parents, Mark and Shardel.
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