Chandler, who in 1962 shared a Pulitzer Prize for general newspaper reporting for stories on political corruption in Florida and later covered the Mafia, civil rights and Caribbean unrest for LIFE, found writing about himself his toughest assignment. "I've never been good at first person," he says, "so I ended up putting in the reactions of my wife, Mary, and of photographer Barry Staver, plus technical background on transplants."
Chandler has been a PEOPLE correspondent since 1981, based in Virginia, in Miami and, since 1984, in Denver. Mary, 38, who is also a journalist, covered many of the Colorado assignments for PEOPLE while David was in St. Louis waiting for a donor heart. Happily, David is now back on the job ("I knew I was back when I got a call to line up interviews with Gary Hart's wife") and is awaiting the publication later this month of his sixth nonfiction book, The Binghams of Louisville (Macmillan, $21.95).
The most nerve-racking part of shooting the transplant story for photographer Barry Staver, 39, was simply getting from his home in Denver to the hospital in St. Louis in time. "A patient is usually given four to six hours' notice before the transplant," he says. He figured that allowed just enough time for him to respond to the call on his beeper, make the 40-minute trip from his house to the Denver airport, factor in weather delays, fly for two hours between the two cities and then take the 20-minute cab ride from the St. Louis airport to the hospital. In fact he beat the donor heart to the hospital by 30 minutes.
Chandler notes that thousands die for lack of healthy hearts, livers, lungs and pancreases, and only 15 percent of those available reach transplant candidates. (Potential donors should contact their family physician.) Staver seconds Chandler's concern. "It is a real joy," he says, "to see a friend who was very close to death, enjoying his 'new' life."
David Chandler, our Denver correspondent, confesses to being a "chronic note-taker." That is why, when his cardiologist told him last January that his life depended on having a heart transplant, Chandler began keeping a diary of all that happened to him and how he felt about it. Five months and one heart later, Chandler, 50, has fashioned his diary into a harrowing yet wry account of his most personal feelings in waiting for a donor heart, the operation and his subsequent recovery. We are pleased to be running his extraordinary first-person story (page 124)—and even more pleased that David survived to write it.