At a recent HeartBrothers Patient Support Group, dozens of transplant survivors, nurses, friends, and family members shared tears and laughter as they remembered HeartBrother Larry Williams, who passed away in March after battling COVID. He was 68-years-old.
“I know Larry’s watching over us,” said HeartBrothers Co-Founder Pat Sullivan.
Williams spent more than a year at Tufts Medical Center before receiving his new heart. After his recovery, he volunteered with the HeartBrothers Foundation, visiting countless Heart Failure and transplant patients in the hospital, offering first-hand advice, support, and, most important, hope.
Here are just some of the remarks from the evening.
Pat Sullivan, HeartBrothers Foundation Co-Founder
Sullivan started the evening with a story about the first time he met Williams.
“The minute we walked into his [hospital] room, Larry made us laugh. We were supposed to be there for 15 minutes and we stayed for three hours.
“Of all our Team HeartBrothers ambassadors, Larry made more contacts than anyone. He just took it to a new level.
“We would get into a conversation about a challenge we had and he would say, ‘Don’t worry about a thing. We got it, you got it.’ He was just so inspiring to our whole mission. He meant so much to all of us. We are feeling a deep, deep loss.”
Sullivan shared a story about his own recent stay at Tufts when Williams called and arranged for the hospital chef to make a special meal for Sullivan.
“He told the chef how to cook my food. I don’t know anyone else who would do that. But Larry would. He would.”
Bob Romer, HeartBrothers Co-Founder
Romer recalled how the first few times he met Williams at Tufts, Williams was naked.
“He was just standing there, like… whatever,” Romer laughed.
Mike Ashworth, HeartBrother
“I met Larry in July of 2017. He was one of the most caring people that you’ll ever meet. He went out of his way to make you feel welcome and he always had his own spin on things. We’d have lunch, he’d visit with the kids. The phone calls in the middle of the night were interesting, to say the least.
“I don’t know that I know another person as well as I knew him. It’s still not real that he’s gone. I still expect him to call me and say, ‘Hey brother Mike, what’s going on?’ I saved a couple of recordings of his voice doing just that… so he’s near and dear to my heart even though he’s physically gone.”
Hamid Mahdavy, HeartBrother
“Larry was very impactful in my treatment on Pratt 8 (at Tufts Medical Center). If you’ve ever stayed there, it’s the closest thing to heaven.”
Mahdavy remembered how he was hesitant to get an LVAD (Left Ventricular Assist Device) and Williams eased his concerns.
“There’s this guy, bigger than life, sitting there with an LVAD attached to him and he’s laughing. He spoke with me for a long time and really helped changed my perspective about LVAD. I got my LVAD and I left the hospital. Two months later I can back and got my transplant and Larry was still there and I felt ashamed of that. I didn’t want to see him. But I ran into him in the hallway – he was always walking down the hallway with music – and he was so gracious and so welcoming. I just can’t say how much I miss him.”
Williams’ wife, Susan, added, “He was always thrilled when someone else got their heart, even though he waited so long for his.”
Don Mitchell, HeartBrother
“When you went to visit Larry, you were trying to help him, but he was helping you as well. He meant a lot to me. He didn’t realize how much he helped me. Anybody who goes through these transplants struggles emotionally.”
Mitchell remembered when he gave a special prayer blanket – which his wife had given to him – to Williams before his transplant. “It was like a security blanket.”
Lynne Silvia, Tufts Medical Center pharmacist (retired)
“Larry started as a patient and became a friend. He was there for 360 days before he was transplanted. Many of us saw him on a daily basis and I was one of those people. He would always make me feel better. He had this amazing ability to raise your spirits. I will always remember the amount of trust he had in me. I’ve worked with a lot of patients, but Larry's course was so challenging. I would ask him questions to find out what was ailing him and which medication we might need to make the pain better. He would say, “I have trust in you Lynne. I know you’re going to figure this out.’ And I would walk out of the room and think, for God’s sake I hope you’re right.
“I visited him in the ICU the day he died. I hope he heard me and felt my presence. I know for sure he felt so loved.”
Annie Malinn, Tufts Medical Center nurse
“It’s not a normal nurse-patient relationship when you’re living in a hospital. The first time I ever met Larry, somebody asked me to help him stand. I helped him stand up… and he kept standing up! I’m 5’2”. (Williams was 6’7”.)
“Larry had swagger. Everything he did, he oozed swagger. Even the staff who came around to empty the trash, he just knew everybody and I really appreciated that. He had so many lessons and things to talk about. There’s a difference between happiness and joy and even in the darkest places, he was able to bring joy. It’s really remarkable and I appreciated that with him.”
Jenn Willis, Tufts Medical Center nurse
“Susan, thanks for sharing Larry with us. With everything he’s done, it still feels like he’s here. If you went his room you had to have a plan because you’d get trapped in there in the best way possible. Every time he came into the hospital, he’d ask about other patients. He probably came in super sick, but he always was worried about everybody else.”
Jennifer, Tufts Medical Center nurse
“Larry has a special place in my heart. I was an ICU nurse and I was ready to quit one night. I had Larry that night. He had his aviators on and his music blaring. After taking care of him I thought… okay this is why I’m a nurse. Every moment after that, Larry continued to support me - ‘You’re the best cath-lab nurse, the best CCU nurse.’ He went above and beyond to make me feel like the most supported human ever when he was going through this.
“He’s my support system and I know he’s all of your support systems, too. He’s still here with us.”
Kerry Gaj, Tufts Medical Center nurse
“It is so special to me to see the way you all have bonded together,” she said of the HeartBrothers. “If there’s anyone who lived his life to the fullest, it’s Larry. He always lit up a room. So, I know you guys are going to carry Larry’s memory forward. It’s just incredible what you’ve developed as a community.”
Bullet, Williams’ Longtime Friend
“I’ve been a friend of Larry’s since his first day at Fed Ex. This big guy happened to walk in. We were friends since day one. All of us had nicknames. He was Big Dog. “
Bullet remembered how Williams was so supportive of him when he became a Rhode Island sheriff.
“Larry called me on the day I graduated. He was thrilled that I accomplished my goal.”
Andre Williams, Brother
“I’d just like to thank everybody for welcoming him into the HeartBrothers. And I know for sure that he’s smiling right now and saying that you guys got a lot of work to do. Don’t be sitting back and being lazy… that was him, joking around. We love him and we know his work will continue to go forward.”
Susan Williams, Larry’s Wife
“I just miss him terribly. I really appreciate everybody doing this. He was the love of my life and I miss him so much.
“My grandson is here with us, he called Larry ‘pops’.” Larry taught him how to tie his shoes and how to tie a tie. Recently Gabriel was in a basketball game and his number happened to be 41. That was Larry’s number in school. We have a picture of Larry in his uniform with the number 41, and Gabriel wearing 41. He’s very proud of that.”
Susan remembered how romantic her husband was.
“He sent a quartet to my office one Valentine’s Day. They gathered around me singing love songs. Another year he sent a heart-shaped pizza. And one year he had a book made about us, a whole storybook.
“He treated me like a queen every minute, every single minute.”
The HeartBrothers Patient Support Group has been renamed in Larry Williams’ honor.
It meets on the second Thursday of every month. Learn more HERE.