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The Unlikely Pair Who Share A Liver and Homestead Laws Saving Women From Homelessness

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
July 12, 2022 3:05 am

The Unlikely Pair Who Share A Liver and Homestead Laws Saving Women From Homelessness

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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July 12, 2022 3:05 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Vic Billingsley shares how Kara French's organ transplant unexpectedly led to a unique friendship. Dr. Jean Stuntz from West Texas A&M University gives us some history on what it was like before women could own property or make any money of their own. 

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Time Codes:

00:00 - The Unlikely Pair Who Share A Liver

35:00 - Homestead Laws Saving Women From Homelessness

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This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories, and we tell stories about everything here on this show, from the arts to sports and from business to history. And now we continue with our Opportunity America series that's sponsored by Koch Industries, which employs some 67,000 Americans. Georgia Pacific, a Koch company, makes many of the paper products we use every day, from tissue and toilet paper to paper towels and more. And Alex Cortez now brings us the story of one of Georgia Pacific's employees, Vic Billingsley, who lives in Hattiesburg, in our own home state of Mississippi.

In 1998, Vic Billingsley was diagnosed with non-alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver, although Vic was able to live a pretty healthy normal life for years. It wasn't until 2007, nine whole years later, that his doctor said, you need a transplant. Kind of all of these things going through my mind is, how do I escape this? There's no exit door. This is one of the cards I've been dealt. I got into a scenario to where your mind is moving at a hyper speed, and it's one of those things that's just absolutely ever-present. You can't escape it. I would go to sleep at night only after being just totally exhausted, because I couldn't turn it off. It was so pressing on me. And I would finally fall asleep after just being totally exhausted and would go through the experience to where I'd only sleep probably maybe a couple hours at a time. And when I'd wake up, I'd go through this thing to where I'd go, wow, that was a terrible dream. That was a bad dream. And then the realization would hit. You'd get that gut punch of, it wasn't a dream.

This is your reality. That replayed itself a whole bunch of times. And then came the part where you've got to be admitted into the hospital to do the testing, to see where you fall as a candidate for a transplant, because just because you need one is not necessarily a guarantee that you're going to get one. So then that's when the waiting game began. I constantly had my cell phone with me, you know, everywhere I went. Anytime the phone rang, you know, the first thing you did was flip it over and look at the caller ID. And there again, every time it rang, you're sitting there wondering if this is the time that you're going to get that call. The call came in on a Sunday morning.

Actually, it was about 6, 630 in the morning. Catherine picked up the phone and kind of looks at the caller ID and she asked me, she said, who is, who is, it says Sanders Foreman. And I came wide awake because that was the transplant surgeon at Tulane. So I answered the phone and he says, this is Vic, this is Dr. Foreman. I just want to let you know we have a liver available, but I want to talk to you about it.

The situation we have is a five and a half month old little girl in Miami, Florida that is also in need of a transplant, but she only needs a certain part of it. And we can have the remainder of it if you elect to accept this. He said we hadn't, we hadn't really done this before here, but we think we can handle it. He said the only problem will be where we face the liver, which means where they, where they make that separation cut that when we put it back into you, we may have some bleeding issues.

And that's a concern, but we, but we feel confident we can handle it. Well, I was full awake and trying to process what he's telling me. And I asked the question, I said, well, can I, can I, can I think about it? And his response was, I'll call you back in four minutes because there's also a time consideration when they have these organs available. So I wanted to talk to my brother and my sister, her being a nurse practitioner, him being a physician, and then kind of get their opinion on it.

So I got them on the phone, my brother's in Florida and my sister's local, and we started discussing it. And then we also got Dr. Florman on the phone and started kind of discussing it and talking about it, all the different ramifications such as that. And my, my sister finally said, well, the good Lord's got us to this point and we just have to, that's where we need to place our trust. And I say we go for it.

And so the decision was made that, okay, we'll go for it. You know, the reality kind of hit real hard at that time that this is, this is actually going to happen now. You know, it's like, it's like being on a roller coaster ride. You can't get off in the middle.

You got to ride it to the end. Well, I had worried and fretted so much through the whole experience. And at the time that I got that call, I was of the 100% thought that I was going to go down there and I was not going to come back. I just, I did not believe that I was going to survive the operation. And so what that brought onto the plate was that morning, I honestly thought I was looking at my kids for the last time. And you're listening to Vic Billingsley, his story of one of the big moments of his life, the turning point in his life, being told there was a liver available, but this operation was going to be difficult.

He assumed the worst, looking at his kids, what he thought would be for sure in his own mind the last time. And by the way, Vic found comfort in his coworkers at Georgia Pacific who offered him a vacation time, organized fundraisers for him and prayed with him. When we come back, more of this remarkable story, our Opportunity America series with Koch Industries continues here on Our American Story. Folks, if you love the great American stories we tell and love America like we do, we're asking you to become a part of the Our American Stories family. If you agree that America is a good and great country, please make a donation.

A monthly gift of $17.76 is fast becoming a favorite option for supporters. Go to OurAmericanStories.com now and go to the donate button and help us keep the great American stories coming. That's OurAmericanStories.com. I know everything there is to know about running a coffee shop, but for small business insurance, I need my State Farm agent. They make sure my business stays piping hot, and I stay cool and confident. See, they're small business owners too, so they know how to help you best. State Farm is in your corner and on it. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

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Simply go to Geico.com or contact your local agent today. And we continue here with our American stories and Vic Billingsley's story. And when we last left off, Vic was certain that he'd die in this operation of a lifetime. He just didn't see any hope. By the way, he'd lost his dad to liver cancer as well. And he was about to share a liver with a five month old baby named Cara. But let's go back to the story because, well, he was certain he was never going to see his kids again. I wound up on my kitchen floor on my hands and knees and I was absolutely sobbing. And I think I had scared my children quite a bit.

Here's Vic's daughter, Haley. So I was six years old and I had no clue that my father was sick. Not even a hint. Every time he had a doctor's appointment, he would, you know, not make a big deal about it. He'd say, oh, you're going to go stay with your family friend this week or you're going to go stay with your friend from school this week.

And just kind of played it off like I just needed to be babysat because they were doing something. But turns out all of those times he dropped me off, they were going to hospitals and meeting with doctors and trying to figure out a game plan for his liver transplant. And Dad just kind of had this look on his face like something wasn't right, but you couldn't tell what it was, like something was out of place. I just remember looking at him and thinking, like, what's wrong with you? And he just kept looking at us and staring at us.

And he watched us for a good bit of time. And then he just starts crying out of nowhere. And I've never seen my father cry, like never before, never after. My dad was on his hands and knees crying on the kitchen floor because he thought he was going to die.

He thought he was going to leave us forever and he would never see his children again. And me being clueless and innocent and just trying to allay a situation that was very stressful. I was sitting in a chair above my father while he was on his hands and knees. And I was just patting his head saying, it's okay, Daddy, it's okay. I don't know what's going on, but you'll be okay. There I am on my hands and knees, and she kind of hugged my head and started patting me and saying, it'll be all right. She didn't really know what was going on, but she was trying to comfort me. She didn't know what was happening, but she was trying to help me out.

And that memory just sticks out to me. So I finally composed myself enough to get up and I didn't want to let go of him, but had to. And even though he was crying, he didn't tell me why. I just got dropped off at a family member's house to be babysat for a week. And nobody told me what was going on.

Nobody updated me. Nothing. We didn't clue them up a lot about this, the children. We didn't sit them down and say, hey, this is what we're going through. We kind of kept them in the dark. So whether that was a good decision or a bad decision, I don't know.

It was just what the right decision felt at that time that if they had to worry about what I was going through, that it would be very hard for them to go through. And we didn't know what their level of understanding. We didn't want to scare them to death.

That was kind of where our decision and not really telling them what was going on came from. So we left and started heading toward New Orleans. The whole time I'm thinking, if I come back to Hattiesburg, it's going to be in a long car with curtains on the side and finally make it to the floor where things start happening. So they start prepping me, you know, because they're still waiting. The liver from the donor is over in Baton Rouge. So they're having to take care of getting that organ and splitting it and then making the transport over to New Orleans and then to Miami for Cara. Dr. Florman walks in and basically says, we're going to get you through this, he said, but there's a few other things you need to know if we go into this and we open you up. He said, if I find any evidence of cancer outside the liver, then we're going to sew you back up and we're not going to do the transplant, we're going to offer that up to somebody else. That was kind of a new twist to it, too. I didn't understand, you know, I understood what he was saying, but I hadn't had previous knowledge of that.

So had he opened me up and there had been something else, then I'd probably been close to the end of the trail. I had carried pictures of the kids, Jacob, Noah and Haley, with me down there. I told the nurse, I said, I want that to go in the OR with me. She wrapped it up in a sterile bag or whatever and put it on the bed with me. I remember going into the operating suite and it felt like I was going into a freezer. It was very cold in there and they slid over to a stainless steel table and got the Happy Juice and was kind of out of it for a while.

I woke up and nobody was there and I'm wondering what's going on. I've got a pretty good bit of cutting on my abdomen and a lot of discomfort, but that discomfort is very much overshadowed by the fact that I'm still alive. Yeah, I hurt, but even hurt can be an enjoyable experience when you're able to hurt, as opposed to you don't have to worry about hurting anymore. And little Kara also survives the transplant. And she was such a small, delicate child and to sit there and think that she had gone through the same thing that I'd gone through. And there's some stark differences there. First off, I went in with knowledge.

I went in knowing as much knowledge as could be given to me. Why the wherefores? Whereas this small, beautiful baby, she didn't know why she was experiencing all of this.

That's kind of what's playing in my mind. She's going through all of this pain, discomfort, and nobody can tell her or explain to her why. She's just having to go through it on her own to a certain degree. And then at the same time, coupled with that, it was a totally different perspective when I looked at Keshia and Kurt to imagine what they as parents were going through. When you're sitting there and you're virtually helpless to do anything for your child, you know, I'm sure they suffered tremendously from having to watch this occur and mine from the whole other flip side of the perspective of where I felt like I was going to leave children behind.

To me, that's a huge dynamic. And the thought goes then to for she and I to live, somebody else had to perish. But through their gift, look what they've done. This beautiful child was able to continue living. I was able to continue being a parent. And you're listening to Vic Billingsley and my goodness, what empathy he has and should have. And when we come back, we'll continue with a compelling and beautiful story of Vic Billingsley.

This is our American story. I know everything there is to know about running a coffee shop, but for small business insurance, I need my State Farm agent. They make sure my business stays piping hot and I stay cool and confident. See, they're small business owners, too, so they know how to help you best. State Farm is in your corner and on it. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

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Purchase all free clear mega packs today and conquer any laundry load for all fabric types. And we're back with our American stories and Vic Billingsley's story of successfully receiving a liver transplant, a topic that his daughter Haley decided to write about in an essay competition for college scholarships that her dad's company, Georgia Pacific, offered and led to more than a scholarship. Here's Haley reading a portion of her essay. At a time when the world seemed gigantic and my sole worry was whether I would get to play with toys or watch TV after a long day of school, I slipped into my life in an unexpected way.

March 2007 was a month of worry, confusion and doubt. My father seemed invincible to me. He was the strongest man I knew.

And yet he was dying. As the innocently clueless six year old I was, I lived my life imagining my father as an infallible hero that could do anything, never imagining that in less than a week, he would be fighting for his life on an operating table. My father was incredibly brave throughout this process.

He was still the man walking up and down the sidelines at my soccer game, and he was still the one picking me up every time I fell. All this time, my father remained calm and steady in the most turbulent times of his life. Abruptly discovering that my father was previously sick and recovering from a major surgery changed my whole viewpoint on life and the human condition. I went from believing that death and agony only existed in storybooks to contemplating the intimate reality of the silent suffering of my valiant father. I could no longer imagine that my father was invincible, and I began to understand the fragility of life. I learned that people are human, no matter how strong they may seem, and that you cannot rely on the promise that they will be here tomorrow. Nearly losing my father taught me to love deeper and live more honestly, because life happens too fast to delay speaking the truth. I have become more compassionate to the sufferings of others, and I am immeasurably thankful to still have my dad today.

With his example, I live my life with faith and confidence that storms will come and I can face them, no matter the outcome. But the outcome of this essay was winning. I was shocked. I just thought it was going to be one of those things where, you know, kind of like buying a raffle ticket. Something you do and you don't ever really hear the results and it's something that someone else wins, but you don't win. You just do it to support a cause or to say that you tried. There was a scholarship luncheon from the Georgia-Pacific Scholarship at my dad's branch, and someone in his office pulled me aside and said, Haley, we have a surprise for your dad.

We'd love your participation in it. And I said, of course, anything to pull something over my dad. I love messing with my dad, good or bad.

I love messing with him. And so she told me that they were trying to get in contact with Cara and schedule something to where she could meet my father. And when she told me that, I was completely shocked. I said, oh, my gosh, that would be incredible. I freaked out a little bit, but it was hard to keep a secret because it's something that would make my dad so happy if he knew that was happening.

But I couldn't ruin the surprise. And then a few weeks later, Bill Worley with GP calls me and says, hey, I was reading through these essays, and the one your daughter wrote was pretty interesting and kind of wanted to learn a little bit more about it. He thought it was enough to do a story on. Joy Light and I can come down to Hattiesburg and talk with you and Haley and set it up for Georgia Pacific to film for them. So, you know, we'd be talking about filming and we would get in arguments about how much food we needed for the day. And it was so hard not to just say, Dad, Cara is coming.

We need food for her and her family. And then that day, I remember it was, you know, we set it up like a TV set where everything behind the scenes is quiet and making a noise is just disruptive and not needed. Bill said, well, let's take a break for a minute.

So we were taking a break and then we started going back. And Haley said, well, I need to run out to the to the car to get something. And I said, well, OK. You know, and she didn't want to have to step through all of the stuff that they had out there for the lighting and all of that. She wanted to go through the back gate.

It's kind of a big, tall wooden gate. And I tried to go through the day before and it was kind of difficult. So I said, no, don't go through there. Go go through the front. And she was kind of I didn't know why she wanted to go through the back. So she said, OK, she she went out the front or whatever. And I remember meeting Cara and meeting her parents and welcoming them and just embracing them fully and just having my own private moment with them to just embrace them and say it's been a long time coming.

And I'm so sad it's been 12 years and we just we're just now meeting. And so I had that little moment with them and then I walked them through the back gate and we went up the back porch and my dad was facing the porch door. And so when I open the door, that door makes a lot of noise.

And I remember my dad looking at me in the eyes kind of with this look of, have you lost your mind? You know, we're supposed to be quiet. Why are you making all that noise? The door's opening up and I'm thinking, why is Haley coming back through that way? Well, she walks through and then my dad's just completely confused and I move out of the doorway. Then Cara walks out and I'm just totally astonished because I'm sitting there with my eyes seeing her, but my mind can't fathom that what I'm seeing is real.

And my dad's look shifts from confusion and annoyance to just utter shock and awe and amazement. You know, she walks up and I have instant recognition because I've seen her so much on Facebook. And then Kurt and Keisha walk in and I am just totally blown away by seeing them there and still living that moment. I just was one I could not believe.

And everybody's kind of smiling with this knowing smile and I realized I had been sandbagged, that I was the only one that didn't have any knowledge about it. And, you know, getting to finally give Cara a hug and Keisha and Kurt to finally see them and meet them, it was just an awesome experience and it just felt right. We're bound together. We have a bond. It maybe sounds a little funny, but I do feel a very strong bond with her.

And it's difficult to explain, but we have a tie that kind of brings us together in a fashion that I don't know of any other people that are kind of tied together like she and I are. But it's unique and it's a blessing. And what a story, Vic Billingsley's family story, his own personal story. As Vic told us, he and Cara seem very different on the outside. He's an old white guy and she's a young black lady. But on the inside, they share a liver and a common belief that they're children of God.

And that stuff really matters. Our Opportunity America series sponsored by Koch Industries. And by the way, that letter of his daughter's, there are two kinds of fathers, folks.

A father who gets a letter like that and a father that doesn't. Vic Billingsley's story here on Our American Stories. I know everything there is to know about running a coffee shop, but for small business insurance, I need my State Farm agent. They make sure my business stays piping hot and I stay cool and confident. See, they're small business owners, too, so they know how to help you best. State Farm is in your corner and on it. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

Call your local State Farm agent for a quote today. Doing household chores can already be time consuming and tedious, and there's nothing more daunting than facing piles and piles of laundry that need to be done. I mean, that can be overwhelming for anyone. So if you want to get those larger laundry loads done right and get back to your life, try all free clear mega packs. All free clear mega packs are bigger packs with two times the cleaning ingredients compared to a regular pack so that you can tackle any laundry load without the worry. All free clear mega packs are also 100 percent free of perfumes and dyes and they're gentle on skin, which is great for any family's sensitive skin needs. My family, we definitely have sensitive skin. So the next time the whole family gets home from long vacation or you get the kids back from summer camp or whatever the situation is that's caused this big pile of dirty clothes, just know that all free clear mega packs, they have your back.

Purchase all free clear mega packs today and conquer any laundry load for all fabric types. This is our American stories. And as you know, we tell stories about everything here on this show and some of our favorite stories. Well, they're about history. And today, Faith brings us some law history from the state of Texas.

Take it away, Faith. If you have traveled much to Europe or any other country outside the U.S., you will see history dates from times like the 12th and 13th century. And it soon becomes clear that America is actually a quite young country in comparison. With that being said, we owe much of our jurisprudence, that is, our law systems to other countries. And the people that came from them to the U.S. While the U.S. adopted English common law when becoming its own country, Texas was a bit different when they became a state because of the Spanish influence they had. Two of the laws that the Spanish brought over to Texas greatly impacted women's rights and freedoms. There was a time, unfortunately, not terribly long ago in our history, that women could not own property or have any money of their own. If their husband had debts to pay or owed taxes, the family's home could be seized and taken, leaving the wife and children homeless and helpless. To keep this from happening, the Spanish had brought with them their homestead exemption laws.

To help us unpack this long history of homestead laws, we have Dr. Jean Stuntz, a professor at West Texas A&M University. It starts back in Spain at the fall of the Roman Empire. There were Visigoths who had come down from the Germany area and settled in the Iberian Peninsula during the Roman Empire. And these were Christian because, of course, the Roman Empire was officially Christian.

Then when the Roman Empire fell, these Visigoths were left pretty much unprotected and they splintered into very small little sort of kingdoms all over the place. In the year 711, Muslims from Northern Africa invaded Spain, going through the Rock of Gibraltar, and very quickly conquered all of these little scattered kingdoms because they couldn't work together to prevent it. And the Muslims went all the way up through Spain. They crossed the Pyrenees and went into France before they were finally stopped.

So that was in the year 711. Well, the people living in Spain who were still Christian wanted to take their country back. Well, these guys in Spain would go out and raid the nearest Muslim settlement for women, for jewels, whatever they could find.

Gradually, the Christians took over more and more territory until we get to the time of Ferdinand and Isabella, when they completely conquer all of the Iberian Peninsulas and push the Muslims out. During this time, this seven centuries or so, is when the Spanish legal system developed. And there were towns in Spain, and people lived in towns. They didn't really live out in the countryside.

And so you had more artisans and craftspeople there than you might have in other parts of Europe where everybody just made everything themselves. So in Spain, they developed this law, this tradition that if a man was in debt, you could not take away the tools of his trade. That is, if he was a blacksmith, you could not take his anvil and hammer to pay the taxes, because then how could he raise the money to pay you? How could he survive with his family if you took away the tools of his trade? This became set in stone in Spanish law that no matter how much a man owed, you could not take his home.

You could not take the tools of his trade because to do that would be a ruination for his family, that you would have to find some other way for him to pay his debt. And so that's in Spain. And then we know that Columbus came over to the New World and discovered all the people living here already. And the Spanish gradually moved northward from Mexico and into Texas. And so for the first hundred or so years of when we have documentation of life in Texas, it was Spanish. And this homestead exemption, as the English-speaking people called it, was recognized as something that worked pretty well. And since a lot of the Anglos coming into Texas had left behind a lot of debts back where they came from, they really liked the fact that their land and their cattle and their tools of their trade could not be taken from them to pay their debts. And so when Texas became a republic, and again when it became a state, they adopted this homestead exemption as rule of law in Texas.

And this lasted up until the 20th century, late 20th century, when it was modified by the Texas legislature. If the homestead exemption had not been put in place, and then what happened in the rest of what became the United States, if a man got into too much debt, his land could be seized, his house could be seized, all of his property could be seized, and the family would be turned out penniless, homeless. And this affected women because married women were not allowed to own their own property under the English common law that the rest of the United States adopted. If a man gambled away his money, it was the women and children who suffered. And of course women in those days had very little ways of earning money to support themselves, and so the families would fall on desperate times indeed.

The other law that Texas had from the Spanish was community property law. This is that whenever there's a husband and wife, anything that is gained in the marriage is split equally between them. And this comes from Spain, because again with all that sporadic fighting that was going on during those centuries, it became very important for women to have the ability to take care of themselves. And especially as the Christian Spanish slowly took over more and more land, they had to get women to come settle in the new towns that they created, and this was a dangerous area. There was still fighting going on, and so they had to offer the women more and more to get them to move into this dangerous area. So they offered things like, well, if you move to this town, we're going to give women, even married women, the right to own their own bakeries, and the money that they make with their bakeries will belong to them and not their husbands.

And so some women said, you know, that makes it worthwhile to move to a dangerous area. And so things like this happened, and women gained more and more rights throughout this reconquest of Spain. And so they also developed the community property system where, as I said, anything that is gained during the marriage belongs to the husband and wife equally. In the rest of Europe, everything belonged to the husband. The wife owned nothing. She had no legal identity. She could not make a contract, so she couldn't own a business. She couldn't work for anyone because the husband would own her wages.

Even women committing crimes, it was the husband who was punished. So that was in the rest of Europe, but in Spain, women had their own rights and responsibilities. And again, this came to Texas when the Spanish came to Texas. And it was such a good system for living on a frontier that the Texas legislature kind of thought, you know, maybe we like this.

And so during the Republic, even though they said in law that they adopted the English common law, people were saying, no, no, the women still have the right to this property. And what is really fun for a historian, not probably for anybody else, but when I was reading the minutes of the Constitutional Convention that would allow Texas to join the United States in 1845, a lot of these delegates were worried about the debts they had left behind in Georgia and Alabama and so forth when they moved to Texas, because Texas was a different country. So the people they owed money to could not touch them in Texas.

And so in Texas, they had been given all these huge tracts of land and they were, you know, flourishing. And they did not want those people back in Alabama and Georgia to be able to come take their land to pay off their debts. So there was a lot of hesitation about joining the United States because of this, that they did not want to lose their land.

But there was a lawyer and he became Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court named Hemphill, and he had studied Spanish law and he was at the convention. And so he made this speech and he says, you know, if we adopt community property law like Spain had, then they cannot take your land because half of it belongs to your wife and not to you. And so this hushed silence sort of fell over this convention of men who were anxious to keep hold of their own property.

And they said, you know, that might work. And so they adopted the community property system to keep their land from going to their creditors. They didn't really care about giving women extra rights or anything because this was the 1840s and they didn't expect women to have any rights. But if they adopted this community property system, then their creditors could not take their land. And so when Texas joined the United States in 1845, it was with community property firmly in place. Homestead exemption and community property laws vary state to state, and the laws originally brought to Texas from the Spanish have been modified in different ways. Although the male lawmakers at the time were not too concerned about women's rights, we can see that these laws in particular greatly impacted women for years to come. And for that, we can thank the Texans. And a special thanks to Dr. Jean Stuntz from West Texas A&M University, who gave us the history and the story behind the story of where that law came from. Great storytelling. And by the way, all of our stories about history are brought to us by the great folks at Hillsdale College. The story of the Texas homestead exemption laws here on Our American Stories.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-16 23:29:52 / 2023-02-16 23:44:31 / 15

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