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Peninsula woman’s paintings in Kenya honor organ donor

May 6, 2018
In a Wednesday, April 25, 2018 photo, against a backdrop of some of her own paintings, Jeanne Edwards, right, along with her husband, Mike Edwards, talks about some of her works in Port Angeles, Wash. A collection of her paintings ended up in a church in Kenya as a "thank you" to the donor who provided the organ for her husband's heart transplant. (Keith Thorpe//The Peninsula Daily News via AP)

PORT ANGELES, Wash. (AP) — Jeanne Edwards found a purpose for her pain.

Inspired by a Kenyan priest, Edwards created a series of paintings to honor an 18-year-old stranger who gave her husband, Mike Edwards, a second chance on life.

Mike Edwards, 65, of Port Angeles received a heart transplant on July 1, 2016, at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix. The donor was a young man named Justin who had planned to enlist in the Army before he died.

To honor Justin and his family, Jeanne Edwards painted the Stations of the Cross, 14 images that commemorate the suffering of Jesus.

The paintings are now displayed in a church in Maralal, Kenya, a small town about nine hours north of Nairobi by dirt road.

“They put those up and I guess it was a big hit,” Mike Edwards said.

“They don’t really have much of an alter or anything there. It’s really rural.”

While she was caring for her bedridden husband in Arizona, Jeanne Edwards had been attending early-morning Mass on Sundays in the desert.

The sunrise services were led by “Father Chris,” a Kenyan priest with a wide smile and warm personality, she said.

“I loved listening to his homilies,” Jeanne Edwards said.

“The one thing that he said that stuck in my mind was: ‘There’s a purpose in all the pain and you should do something good that should come out of it.’”


When Father Chris announced that he was returning to Kenya, Jeanne Edwards vowed to do something positive and exchanged emails with her priest.

“I started the first two paintings, sent photos of them, and he liked them,” Jeanne Edwards said.

“He liked my style. I just kept going.”

The Edwardses were invited to name the new church in Maralal where the paintings are displayed. They picked St. Teresa of Calcutta — Mother Teresa — for her work with the poor.

Mike Edwards has not yet been medically cleared to visit Kenya because of concerns about his immune system’s response to the live yellow fever vaccine.

“When we’re able, we’ll be visiting,” Jeanne Edwards said.

Jeanne Edwards, who described herself as an “impressionistic” painter, got the idea to paint the stations of the cross from a basilica she and her husband had visited in Budapest, Hungary.

While she was working on the paintings, the Edwards learned through the Mayo clinic that the mother of the heart donor wanted to meet them.

Correspondence between donors and organ recipients is closely monitored by hospitals, Mike Edwards said.

“It’s a long process, months actually, to get one letter though,” he said.

As a result, Mike and Jeanne have yet to meet the mother and still know very little about Justin or how he died.

“I know that he has two older sisters,” Jeanne Edwards said.

After the transplant, Mike Edwards experienced numerous complications that required extended hospital stays and weeks in bed. His wife of 45 years remained his caregiver as he went from walker to wheelchair three times in the first year.

“I’ve battled back so many times,” Mike Edwards said at his home overlooking the east side of Port Angeles Harbor.

Mike Edwards said his health has improved noticeably in the past two months.

“I’ve really been feeling good,” he said.

“I’m out there doing all my projects around the house again.”

“I’ve had some value changes, so I’m getting rid of a motorcycle,” he added.

“In honor getting a new chance on life, I don’t want to go down on a bike.”

The Edwards’ moved to the Port Angeles area from Issaquah in 2007.

A retired information technology professional, Mike Edwards has served on Port Angeles planning committees and volunteered with the Paint the Town community service project.

He also spearheaded the PA Forward “Choose Local” campaign to encourage reinvestment in the local economy.

“I was busy in the town doing all kinds of stuff,” Mike Edwards said.

Thanks to an aspiring service member he never met, Edwards will likely remain busy for years to come.


Information from: Peninsula Daily News, http://www.peninsuladailynews.com