Hope & Healing: The UF Health Blog

From Tragedy to Hope: The Story of Moe Ricks’ Optimism in the Face of Tragedy

In July 2019, UF Health staff wheeled Maurice (Moe) Ricks into surgery to prep him to receive a new heart and kidney, which were in transport on a plane to Gainesville, Florida. Fate would intervene as the transport team comes face-to-face with a potential life-or-death situation. In an unlikely twist, talented artists would  provide Moe a unique perspective on what it means to hope and persevere in the face of tragedy.

Listen to Waiting (.MP3)

Download Waiting, a song by Moe Ricks and the Arts in Medicine team. Contributors: Moe Ricks; Ricky Kendall and Michael Claytor, Musicians in Residence; Andrew Hix, Writer in Residence; Dr. Edward Staples; and Diana Andersen-Davis, RN.

When Tragedy Strikes: Video Transcript

Maurice Ricks
I'm Maurice Ricks. I'm a recording engineer. I own a company called One Moe Productions in Jacksonville, Florida. I've always loved music since I was a child, and I used to bounce at a club that had a lot of bands that would come through. When they'd bring in the audio gear, I would help load in, load out and got interested in it, and then somebody told me about Full Sail. I went to school down there, studied recording engineering, and I've been doing it ever since.

What I love most about it is the creative freedom. I get to get emotions out through music when I make my own music or even working with other people. I just love spending my time being creative and making things.

I was born with kidney issues, which led to high blood pressure, which led to a congestive heart failure. It just progressed to the point where we are now. So now they need to do the heart transplant and a kidney to support the heart transplant. The day they came in to tell me “we found organs” was just - I don't know. I was scared. I was happy. I was sad that somebody died, you know what I'm saying, for me to live. Then around 5:00 in the morning, they took me down for surgery.

Mandy King, CTBS
Once a heart is procured, you are in fast mode again against a time clock. It's a time constraint from that point on, and you're rushing in the ambulance getting transported to the local FBO, which is your airport.

Mark Bleiweis, MD
We time the donor procedure and the donor timing with our recipient timing, so that we minimize the time that the heart is not getting blood or is ischemic.

Jennifer Frederick, RN, BS, CCTC
Mandy sent me a text when they were leaving the hospital. She sent me a text when they were at the airport getting on the plane, and as I do every single time, I texted back "Have a safe flight."

Narrator - Text
It was supposed to be a routine flight.

Edward Staples, MD
Pilots cranked up the engines and started rolling down the runway. As we were taking off, the plane lifted off normally, and all of a sudden it sounded like a very solid door slamming very fast, and the plane shook a little bit.

Mandy King, CTBS
And the pilot turned around and said, "We're okay. It was a bird. We're okay.”

David Young
A bird strike can occur really at any phase of flight. More often than not, it's either the takeoff and landing phase and can hit any part of the aircraft. They also can do more damage to an aircraft than people maybe think. You can have a bird ingested by the engine and cause damage to the engine. In this particular instance, shortly after we took off, we hit a bird or birds. We assessed some of the systems immediately and things appeared normal, and so it's a situation where you just carry on and you finish your mission. It wasn't until several minutes into the flight where things started changing.

Edward Staples, MD
We climbed up through the clouds and nothing was happening, but at 9,000 feet, the engine made this groan. It reverberated throughout the plane.

Mohammad Al-Ani, MD
We started hearing very strange mechanical noises back in the rear part of the plane.

Mandy King, CTBS
I actually laid down for a minute, and then woke up to Dr. Staples waking me. There's a roaring in the left engine, and it sounds like somebody threw a brick in a blender.

Mohammad Al-Ani, MD
A few seconds later, there was a smoke coming out of the ventilation, and we learned later that basically that smoke was the burning oil that was leaking from the engine.

Edward Staples, MD
It was then the pilot turned around and said, "We don't have any oil pressure. I'm shutting the engines down."

David Young
The oil pressure in the left engine began to decrease, and so at that point you go into securing the engine.

Mohammad Al-Ani, MD
There were red lights, red emergency lights, and we had obviously limited communications with the pilots, because they're trying to focus on getting us somewhere.

Edward Staples, MD
Right after that, I think we all just dealt with it ourselves. There was no group hug. We're all going down together. I started texting. Everybody started texting. This is to Nancy. I texted her first. I said, "plane hit a bird. engine on fire. plane going down." I just texted her again, it said, "plane on fire. going down. love you lots. Hope this plane lands somewhere," because I didn't know if I was going to make it.

Mandy King, CTBS
Things are getting real raw. “Am I going to make it home, for one. Am I going to get this heart home?” I knew that my recipient was open and on the table, because I sent that message at 5:12 that morning, and then my next text message was to my husband. "I don't know if we're going to get this heart home. I don't know if I'm going to make it off this plane, but I love you."

Edward Staples, MD
It wasn't until you could hear the other engine powering up that I thought we'd be alright.

Zachary Espenship
Most of pilot training, once you know how to fly the airplane, most of it is what to do when stuff goes wrong.

David Young
What this really is is a single-engine approach in landing, and we do multiple of these each time we go back for recurrent training, which we do that every six months.

Mohammad Al-Ani, MD
We were very lucky to have very experienced people to use one engine to maneuver that, limited visibility, emergency landing in a small airport in time.

David Young
We did our job. We stayed focused on the task at hand, which was to secure the engine and make a safe, single-engine approach and landing to get everybody back on the ground safely.

Video Text
The plane landed at a small airport near Atlanta.

Mandy King, CTBS
Pretty terrifying, but also, you have an organ on board, and now I'm thinking about the recipient.

Mark Bleiweis, MD
We got word that the plane was making an emergency landing, that something bad had happened with the plane, and so we were all frightened for our team. I mean we first and foremost, we're frightened for our team. Once we knew everybody was safe, then we refocused our attention to what was going to happen with our potential recipient. We know he needed, he needs this heart, and he was also going to receive a kidney. Mr. Ricks was open, but we hadn't gone on the heart-lung machine or anything like that, but we had started to prepare things.

Edward Staples, MD
It was at that point that, we turned off the engines, we got out of the airplane, I immediately turned my focus to the heart.

Mohammad Al-Ani, MD
The first reaction really that comes to your mind is, "How am I going to accomplish my mission? How am I going to get this heart to this patient?" We literally had 45 minutes to find a jet. A helicopter would have been too slow. Ground transport would have been definitely very slow.

Edward Staples, MD
I was knocking on plane doors and talking to pilots.

David Young
Every operator on the field, we called probably eight operators, and no one could get there fast enough.

Edward Staples, MD
We could never identify a plane and a pilot, either because of time constraints or liability concerns or the pilot's destination was the opposite end of the country instead of Florida. So it didn't work out.

Mandy King, CTBS
Felt defeated. At the time we landed, we would have had 30 minutes to get back off the ground. Just seven hours prior, maybe even five hours prior, we all had this huddle and talked about our recipient and how excited everyone was on the team that he was getting this combo organ set, and to know that he was going to have to wake up not having that completion.

Mark Bleiweis, MD
And so, we knew that we just, for Mr. Ricks' safety, we just had to call it, and not take a risk of putting in a heart that had been just out way too long.

David Young
The heart ultimately ended up going to research there in Atlanta. Kind of heartbreaking for us because we knew who was waiting for it here.

Maurice Ricks
They woke me up, and I was looking around and things just didn't seem right. You know, I asked them, "What happened?"

Mohammad Al-Ani, MD
At that time, he was awake out of anesthesia. First thing I said, "How are you doing?" And he said, "Well I'm having some chest pain for after the surgery, but tell me what's your understanding of what happened." And I was trying to be gentle and sensitive because I didn't know how he would react. All I can imagine is that this patient went under anesthesia expecting to have a new heart that he has been awaiting for a long time. Just trying to put ourself in his shoes, and it's a tremendous burden.

Jennifer Frederick, RN, BS, CCTC
I've been doing this 14 years or so, and in all of that time, I've only ever had, I think, two other patients that were in the operating room thinking that they were going to get an organ, and then something happened along the way.

Mohammad Al-Ani, MD
The first thing he said was, "Don't worry about it. Thank you so much for your help. You have done more than I have asked you to do. You're my hero. We'll get the heart later. It's going to be okay."

Mark Bleiweis, MD
Later that day, I went to see Moe and his family, and there was, there was no remorse. There was no sadness. They were only concerned about our team and not, you know, what he missed out on.

Maurice Ricks
It just wasn't meant to be. That was the only way I could handle it and kind of keep my sanity, you know I mean, and not break down. It was like, “Okay, well it wasn't my time. Those organs weren't for me, and now I got to heal.”

Video Text
Art springs from tragedy.

Maurice Ricks
The typical healing process in the hospital is, you know, so clinical. It's about medicines and machines. So the Arts and Medicine guys, the type of healing that they offered was basically for my soul.

Ricky Kendall
Working at the hospital, we meet a lot of different people, and a lot of them come to us via referral process. So we were referred to Moe's room. When we met him, he was just super engaging. He told us he loved music just as much as we did, and so we hit it off pretty quickly.

Maurice Ricks
They asked me what I wanted them to play, each one of them individually, and both times I was like, "Play originals. Play something you wrote." And they did, and I was just like, "Wow, these guys got talent." Now, I can tell them, I'm a recording engineer.

Michael Claytor
It was something we'd never experienced before. Moe had this technical ability of recording, so he saw us as maybe a vehicle for him to be able to record music in his room like he does in his regular life.

Maurice Ricks
I can get some gear, you know, I'll buy some new gear and have a little mobile studio set up right in the hospital room, and then they found my organs and the tragedy happened. And then we got to talking about writing a song about that.

Ricky Kendall
He came out of that situation wanting to immediately express how he is feeling. And so we kind of consisted of us listening to his story; talked to him about what parts he wanted to highlight, you know; what did he want it to feel like; what was the mood. He wanted to know about everyone else's perspective. He wanted to know about the doctors who were on the plane. He said, "I can't imagine what that must have been like." And we're thinking, you just had this horrible thing happen and you're wondering about how someone else's feeling. That's really empathetic, and it's really beautiful, and so we knew it was pretty ripe for a good song.

Maurice Ricks
Then they went for a couple days, wrote the song and came back, and it just floored me. This is so beautiful.

Ricky Kendall, singing
Something happened. Someone. I don't know. Here I am. Just let it go. Waiting so patiently for the heart that I need.

Maurice Ricks
It gave me an escape from the day-to-day, needles and tubes and blood tests and, you know, all that stuff. I had something to look forward to in getting out of the hospital. It kind of gave me hope that I would get out.

Kathleen Giery
Right now, there are more than 113,000 patients across the country who are on waiting lists at different transplant centers who are in need of a life-saving organ transplant. Their only hope for survival is getting that transplant. It's not like you can just get a medication or have a procedure done or have an operation done and get better. So without organ donors, none of these 113,000 patients are going to get that new chance at life.

Maurice Ricks
Just knowing that you passing can help another life is, you know, it's a special feeling. And now that I'm on this end of it, I really realize how special that is to be an organ donor.

Kathleen Giery
It is so easy to become an organ donor and make a decision that could ultimately save not just the life of one person or two or three. So many other individuals can be helped from one decision: "Yes, I want to be an organ and tissue donor."

Ed Jimenez
Inside of everybody at UF Health, all of our doctors and nurses, lives and breathes this idea that we've been entrusted with a great responsibility. And the responsibility is to give every single patient hope where sometimes hope doesn't exist.

Mark Bleiweis, MD
But to see a patient's optimism in the face of such a difficult situation, it reaffirms why all of us do what we do here at UF Health, and why our transplant team does what it does.

Jennifer Frederick, RN, BS, CCTC
Everyone here that I have ever worked with at UF Health, they're 100% bought in. We don't do transplant because it's just a job. We do transplant because it's our life, and we love what we do.

Edward Staples, MD
I feel like I'm just doing my job, and it's a job that I want to do. I don't want to go down any more than anybody else, but I gladly accept the risk.

Mark Bleiweis, MD
It was really incredible to think about sending messages to their family members from the plane and worried about their life, and then to immediately go right into "we've got a heart here. We got to get it back to the recipient." I know that my teammates are our heroes every time they get in a plane and bring us a heart. But that, that just put it in a whole different realm.

Maurice Ricks
I just went back on the transplant list in November. I have this guy with me everywhere I go every day, which is the left ventricular assist device, which is doing the work of the left side of my heart. My philosophy behind life is life is what you make it. I mean we go through life creating memories, and I'm trying to create some good memories, you know. Even if you have your dark days, there's always a silver lining. I just know that it's going to be over. Trouble doesn't last forever. I just kind of keep my, you know, try to keep my faith and stay strong.

Ricky Kendall, singing
Waiting so patiently for the heart that I need.

Narrator - Video Text
The bird strike happened in July 2019. As of February 2020, Moe Ricks is still waiting for a heart and kidney transplant. To learn more about organ donation, visit www.donatelifeflorida.org.

This is who we are. We are UF Health.


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