Cecil Wayne Nelson, 57, was given a new lease on life two years ago when he received the heart of a 23-year-old. His illness and recovery also led to a new spiritual life for him. He will be ordained as a deacon today in the New Zion Faith Center, 1904 Jamestown Road.
Two years ago, it appeared to Nelson that he had no future.
“I was so weak,” Nelson said. “The doctors said my heart was only functioning at 9 percent. For two months I was only able to sit in my recliner all day, only getting up to go to the bathroom.”
His lack of hope was confirmed by the local doctors. “They had given up on me,” Nelson said.
It was at this time, while he was waiting in his recliner to meet his death, that he received a surprising visit.
One of Nelson’s neighbors had asked Pastor Ernest Widby Sr. to visit Nelson. Widby is the pastor of New Zion.
“I had never met him,” Widby said. “I was just paying a witness visit. I wanted to tell him to put his faith in God.”
Widby told him to change his heart and the desires of his heart would come. “Life was his heart’s desire,” Widby said.
The words Widby spoke came straight out of the Bible. They were 2,000 years old, but they were fresh and revitalizing to Nelson.
“I began feeling better while he was talking to me,” Nelson said. “I was gaining strength. When he finally left me, I got out of my recliner and I had enough strength to go into the kitchen and wash the dishes.”
There was one other person in Nelson’s life who had not given up hope for him. His wife, Melissa, did not let the pessimism of Nelson’s doctors discourage her. She kept searching for a cure for him. She finally found it at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.
She encouraged her husband and reminded him how much he had to live for. In addition to his 32-year-old son, Freddy; he also had a 5-year-old daughter, Melinda; and his grandchildren, 6-year-old Caleb and 4-year-old Kylie.
“When they saw me, they immediately took me off every medication the local doctors had me on,” Nelson said. Along with the new medicine, they gave him new hope. He was placed on a list for a heart transplant.
When the time came, time was of the essence. Nelson was flown to Vanderbilt in a private plane. He was quickly prepped for surgery, but he refused the anesthesia until he could say goodbye to his wife. He does not remember a thing after that farewell until he woke up with the heart of an unfortunate young man who had died.
“I have the heart of a 23-year-old and I sure can feel it,” Nelson said. With such a strong heart, his recovery was rapid. He was way ahead of the schedule the doctors had prescribed for getting out of bed, walking the halls and every other task. He quickly regained the strength he had not had in years.
Along with his new life, Nelson gained a new spiritual life. He remembered Pastor Widby and soon he and his family became regular members of New Zion. He quickly became a leader in the church.
His new strength allowed Nelson to perform menial tasks such as hauling trash and picking up supplies. He soon won the trust to handle church funds and assist in the making of financial decisions. He helped in the relocation of the church to Jamestown Road. He also brought more members of his family to the church.
Nelson’s transformation even amazed Widby. “When I first saw him, he looked like a 90-year-old man.” Widby keeps a photograph of the pre-transplant Nelson in his office to remind him of how far he has come.
“He is a trusted confidant on my team and I love him and his family,” Widby said.
That trust led to today’s ordination ceremony.
“He has been on trial as a junior deacon for two years,” Widby said. “He has met the requirements to be ordained.”
Nelson’s ordination will not be the only one at New Zion today. Widby will also be presiding over the ordination of his sister, Evelyn Sue Nichols, as a minister.
Widby said Nichols decided to become a minister after the death of her husband, who was a minister. She was licensed to be a minister and for the past nine years she has served as pastor to the 2nd Avenue Baptist Church in Dodge City, Kan.
Although she has continually served as a minister, Widby said she is now being ordained so she can perform weddings and funerals and other ministerial roles.
It should be a joyous and memorable day at New Zion, but Nelson said every day for him for the past two years has been memorable.
“I have been blessed by this whole experience,” Nelson said.