Gary and Edna Watson plan to celebrate their 52nd wedding anniversary on Dec. 1 this year. They have traveled a road paved with blessings and times of near death.
After their wedding in 1962, Gary was drafted into the Army in April 1966 and arrived in Vietnam in October of that year. On his arrival he was greeted with gunfire. “On my first night there, live rounds came through the top of our tent,” he said. Serving as a supply clerk, he rose to the rank of E-5 and earned the nickname “Doc.”
Transferred home in 1967, he escaped the biggest and bloodiest campaign of the war, the TET offensive in 1968, but had a close friend to die during that series of battles.
“I am very patriotic and I had a patriotic duty to serve. It was an experience like nothing else, but I would not take anything for it,” he stated. “To this day when that flag is raised, I shiver. I get emotional. I am a born-again sinner saved by grace and a red-blooded American.”
Following his discharge from the army, Gary and Edna took a ride in the mountains. On the way home, he decided to drive for the first time since returning from Vietnam. As they traveled, she asked why he was going so slow. “I looked down [at the speedometer] and saw I was driving 35 miles per hour. That was the speed limit we had in Nam,” he said.
The couple had survived the war without incident. However, in 1993 Edna developed cryptococcal meningitis, a disease that preys more often on people with a damaged or compromised immune system. It is an infection of the lining of the lungs and spinal cord that can be fatal. Some of the symptoms include difficulty breathing, cough, fever, chest pain, weight loss, potential change in mental status and possible neurological issues. It was later when the official diagnosis was made. Still unsure of what was happening, the doctor indicated she could have suffered a stroke. After several days in the hospital, she was continuing to digress. Gary stated, “The doctor asked me to call the family. It looked like she might not live.” She was connected to a respirator. “Things did not look good, but then the Great Physician took over,” he said. Edna said simply, “God intervened.” The diagnosis that had eluded the medical professionals was finally made, and treatment began. She went through a long recovery. “I had to learn to walk and talk again,” she said. “The hardest part of the recovery was doing my own breakfast as part of the therapy. They were getting me ready to go home.”
Edna stayed in the Easley Baptist Hospital for 13 days and another 63 days at Greenville Hospital System.
Their peaceful life was interrupted again three years later. This time she needed a liver transplant. Two years later, she was put on the waiting list. Six weeks before her liver transplant, the doctors determined she also needed a kidney. On June 24, an official at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston called, and they immediately left. Their bags had been packed in anticipation of a call. “When we got there, they were waiting for us. I felt such a peace on the ride and at the hospital,” she said.
The 18-hour surgery began at 5 a.m. the next morning. She was out of surgery and doing well nine hours later. Gary pointed out that now “she has three kidneys, and all three are functioning.”
Gary and Edna were counseled to stay on in Charleston for regular checkups, etc. They got an apartment in Charleston and needed $2,500 a month to cover living expenses. The couple only had $1,000 in the bank. Gary said, “I just told Edna I believed the Lord would provide for us.” Their church sent them $1,500 the first week and another $1,000 the next. Edna shared, “We never lacked for money. Family members, friends, churches sent us money.”
Fourteen years later, she is still going strong. “The first thing I think of every morning is the people who donated my organs. I pray for the families of the donors and ask God to give them peace,” she stated. She made a profession of faith in Christ at age 12, but was born again at 31. “I realized I had never trusted Christ as my Savior. Since I was truly saved, I have been peaceful ever since.”
Gary was saved at age 12 during a week-long revival meeting.
Throughout their soon-to-be 52 years, they have witnessed the faithfulness of God. He says, “I know this: God’s grace is sufficient.”
The Watsons are members of Friendship Baptist Church in Williamston.