Tim Ervin played the national anthem at center court Monday night before the Dallas Mavericks faced the Golden State Warriors. But, as he played the trumpet he mastered decades ago, he did it this time with someone else's lungs.
He's a church music leader from Mt. Pleasant, Texas. The trumpet is his instrument of choice. But in 2009, Tim Ervin's life began to change.
"I had a cough that wouldn't go away," he said.
A cough and a cruel twist of fate. His lungs of all things, started to fail.
"2014, began the decline. Rapid decline," he told us.
A rapid decline from pulmonary fibrosis. Maybe a few years would be all he'd have left - years without the ability to play. So he put the trumpet away.
"I actually put them in the case and got rid of them. Just because I didn't want to look at them. Honestly everybody dies. I just figured this is probably what is going to get me. But it's not being morbid. It's being real."
But 59-year-old Ervin, a man of faith, would get a modern medical miracle at UT Southwestern in Dallas. He had a successful double lung transplant in 2014. It gave him a chance to live and maybe even play that trumpet again. Which is where Neil Herskowitz comes in.
"That's the whole point of doing a transplant, is to do the things you always wanted to do," Herskowitz said.
Herskowitz is a successful lung transplant recipient too. His surgery at UT Southwestern was two years ago. And when the men met at a gathering of transplant recipients, Herskowitz heard Ervin say he hoped to play the national anthem at a major sporting event someday.
Neil just happens to be an assistant equipment manager - for the Dallas Mavericks.
"I lost a little bit of my confidence as a player," Ervin said of his post-transplant recovery.
"Well you better find that confidence in the next four hours," Neil joked.
"I got it man," Ervin laughed. "I got it man. I'm ready."
Because Monday night, standing on the Mavs logo at center court, Tim Ervin put someone else's lungs to the test of his dreams. He played the Star Spangled Banner, received a rousing ovation and then a second ovation when the audience learned he was a transplant recipient. But Ervin wasn't just playing for himself.
"I've had literally over a hundred people come to me and say I'm an organ donor now, because of you," he said. "Organ donors are heroes. Because they are thinking way beyond themselves."
"You can be bonded and be connected by the gratitude and the good fortune that we share that we've had this surgery and we've come out much better for it," Herskowitz said.
"Look, no one lives forever," said their transplant surgeon Dr. Michael Wait, Chief of the Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery Service at UT Southwestern. "The clock ticks for everybody whether you've had a transplant or not. And so, we put some more sand in that hour glass."
Neither man knows who their donor was, who it was that gave them all this extra time. But they'd like to know someday.
"It blesses my heart. I'll be honest with you," Ervin said.
Because a donor offered a few more grains of sand to allow someone else's music to play on.
UT Southwestern's Lung Transplant team has performed more than 600 lung transplant surgeries including 300 in the past five years, making it one of fewer than 25 programs in the U.S. to achieve that milestone. And the program’s one-year survival rate is No. 1 in the region and according to UTSW exceeds the national average.
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