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Finding the light: Snoqualmie woman pens personal story of family’s transplant experience

Snoqualmie man Nate Gunderson’s quest for a new heart led to a book by his wife, Genevieve Ruth. - Courtesy photo
Snoqualmie man Nate Gunderson’s quest for a new heart led to a book by his wife, Genevieve Ruth.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

‘Catchlight’ is a term of the photographer’s art: “It’s the twinkle you see in a subject’s eye,” says Genevieve Ruth.

A portrait photographer by trade, and a Snoqualmie wife and mother, Ruth had to find the light in her own life when things turned dark for her family three years ago

At the time, her husband, Nate Gunderson, was in dire need of a heart transplant, after battling for his life against a severe bacterial infection.

For Genevieve, that experience, and the personal discoveries she made during her family’s journey to health, are the centerpiece in her first book, “Catchlight: Perspective Through an Optimistic Lens,” which also explores the true story of Nate’s transplant.

The transplant

Today, Nate is a healthy, happy, hardworking father of two daughters, Mikaeala and Sienna Iyse. He’s working out and running again.

But in 2009, what appeared to be a random illness was found to be a staphyloccoci infection that rapidly destroyed his heart. Nate was flown to Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, endured several surgeries and went on the heart transplant list. He lived in the intensive care unit for a month before he received a new heart from a woman donor.

While Nate awaited a heart transplant, Genevieve was busy getting the word out about his situation and the need for organ donation. A website builder and a writer, she and Nate both knew his story needed to be told.

Personal story

Published on Thanksgiving, “Catchlight” is Genevieve’s first, but probably not the last, book about their experience.

“It’s a cool story with a happy ending,” she said.

The book also looks at Gunderson’s philosophy of life, which helped her endure the dark times.

Written in first person, Catchlight shows the inner dialogue that happens when you’re a caretaker.

Readers “walk a mile in optimist’s shoes and see how they think and react to stress,” she said. Helping Nate, “I was trying to find that source of illumination and cling to it. It means always seeking out the bright spots and finding the light in the dark. It has to do with accepting the situation and picking out the good.”

“Gen’s always been positive, motivated and driven,” says Nate. He was always, at least before the transplant, a bit more pessimistic, and they balance each other. Genevieve’s attitude was one of the reasons he married her. He’s still inspired with how she kept the family going while he was fighting for his life.

Nate loves the book. He always believed their story should be told, and has shared it himself for a leadership project at his job.

“It’s definitely still with me,” Nate says of the transplant experience. “But it’s easy to get caught up in the craziness of work and life, especially with two kids. The book is a good reminder to me. It reminds me to have the right perspective, to keep in mind what’s important. Don’t stress, there’s not enough time to worry. Focus on what’s important, and live in the moment.”

The couple want to use that story to help others.

“Nate wanted to pay it forward,” said Genevieve. “He was given this tremendous gift.”

Part of sales from the book go to non-profit organ donation advocacy programs and transplant-related research, including a Providence Health Care fund that lets Nate’s transplant specialist do drug research and testing on post-transplant patients.

“We can give back to the man who saved Nate’s life and who can help others,” Genevieve said.

The heart

Ruth offers a choice of covers for the books she sells. One is an image of her own eye. She used a special cut-out to put a heart-shaped “catchlight” in her pupil.

The other cover is a pastel artwork done by Nate during his 20s. It’s a picture with a man’s face subtly painted on the right, and a woman’s face on the left, with a heart connecting them.

Nate explains that he went through an heart-focused artistic period years ago.

“I knew the guy was me,” Nate says. “I didn’t know who the lady was.”

He would tell the women in his life that the face represented them. But, when he found out his heart donor was a woman, he realized that the artwork might have been strangely prescient.

“Now, it’s a powerful metaphor for what happened,” he said.

• “Catchlight” by Genevieve Ruth is available at www.genevieveruth.com/catchlight_perspective.htm and on Amazon.

Courtesy photo

Genevieve and Nate Gunderson, with daughters Mikaela and Sienna Iyse, in a family photo taken earlier this year. Genevieve recently published her first book, an account of her personal journey and Nate’s heart transplant odyssey.

 

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