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Ex-football player receives new heart

Dottie Lindsey was just getting over the flu, but she wanted to get to Charlottesville before it snowed to visit her son Mark, a former Cavalier football player who has been awaiting a heart transplant at University Hospital since 1997.

"When I arrived here at Mark's apartment, my husband was parked in front of it," Mrs. Lindsey said. "I just knew something must be horribly wrong." She had left her husband, Tom Lindsey, at the family's home near Richmond just an hour earlier. "I was dumbfounded. I thought, oh my gosh, something terrible must have happened to Mark."

Too terrified to move, she sat in the car for five minutes, staring at her husband's car. Then Mr. Lindsey shouted for her to hurry up because they had to go to the hospital right away.

"I burst into tears, I was so frightened," she said. "It never even occurred to me that they had found a donor. The wait has been so long."

She had to ask her husband twice to repeat the news that the hospital had found a heart for their son before she could believe it. Nearly nine hours later, the transplant was successfully completed and 22-year-old Mark Lindsey's long wait was over. Now the 6'6" former linebacker and his girlfriend, Catina Newsome, are looking forward to spending Valentine's Day together at home for the first time since he entered the hospital.

Newsome was with Mark in his hospital room when a surgeon unexpectedly told them that a donor had been found.

"We both started crying," she said. "I can't even describe the whirlwinds of emotions. We were terribly excited, but really scared. Really we were just in shock ... Mark just put his head down and couldn't say anything."

His parents arrived in time to see Mark before he went into surgery. Then the family and Catina settled in for a long wait at the hospital. The operation took place from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m. yesterday. No one slept.

But the procedure went well and the new heart "started up right away. It went off without a hitch," Newsome said.

After surgery, "Mark looked really good. He was actually awake," Newsome said. "He has a breathing tube in but he was really in good spirits."

Mark is unable to speak because of the tube, but he still is communicating.

"He was able to ask for water and tell us that he loved us," Newsome said. "He drew letters in the air or on my arm."

Both Mrs. Lindsey and Newsome said they are elated, but added that their joy is bittersweet. The donor was an 18-year-old boy.

"I completely fell apart because we came very, very close to losing Mark," Mrs. Lindsey said. "Having gone through that experience and hearing the age of the young man that was the donor, we knew better than most what the parents of that young man were going through and our hearts just broke for them ... What incredible people they must be to give this incredible gift at a time when their world was falling apart."

Mark may leave the hospital in a matter of weeks. He hopes to finish his degree soon. As for playing football again?

"I think maybe for fun. He might stick to softball or something like that," Newsome said. "The sky's the limit"