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A heart-filled gesture: Former MSHS athlete Garrett Finkbeiner greeted by parade of support

The parade of cars lines up at Cherry Creek Elementary Sunday afternoon. (Journal photo by Ryan Stieg)
4 The Finkbeiner clan waves to the parade of well-wishers in front of the family home Sunday afternoon. Pictured left to right: Courtney Finkbeiner, Courtney’s boyfriend Cole Hooten, Nate Finkbeiner, Garrett Finkbeiner, Bill Finkbeiner, Wendy Finkbeiner. (Journal photo by Ryan Stieg)
Former Marquette Redmen athlete Garrett Finkbeiner (left) smiles with his father Bill after the parade of well-wishers passed in front of the family home Sunday afternoon. (Journal photo by Ryan Stieg)

CHOCOLAY TOWNSHIP — Every winter holiday season, people all over the country express their love and support for family and friends. Some choose to do so in small, subtle ways, while others do it in big, grand fashion.

Whatever the method, the important thing is that there’s heart behind the gesture and heart means a little more to former Marquette Redmen athlete Garrett Finkbeiner. The basketball and baseball star got a heart transplant earlier this year and was greeted by a parade of well-wishers who honked their cars and waved out their windows in front of the Finkbeiner home Sunday afternoon.

The gesture was a surprise to Garrett, who said he’s appreciated all the support he’s gotten over the course of the year..

“I didn’t really know what to think at first,” he said with a laugh. “I was a little shocked by it. I think it was a really cool thing to do and I’m really just thankful for it. And thankful for the whole community, the whole time they’ve been super, super supportive of myself and my family and the whole process that we’ve been going through.”

According to his father, Bill Finkbeiner, the parade idea came from Garrett’s friends and two of their moms and it turned out to be a success. Garrett’s uncle Jim Finkbeiner, a Marquette police officer, led the parade.

“They had the idea and they tried to keep it as a surprise, and his friends rolled with it to try to get as many people to come out and just surprise him,” Finkbeiner said. “Because they want to do something, but with COVID, they can’t. They want to have a big party and hug him and everything else. It’s very hard. So this was the next best thing. They wanted to do something to surprise him and I think that worked out really well.

“Of course Jim was all over it. Being his uncle and it’s something that he can do and surprise him and be involved too. And he was excited to be able to do that too.”

Garrett was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy back in March and doctors tried to treat him with some medications to shrink the enlarged right side of his heart, but they didn’t work. In April, he was placed in a medically induced coma as doctors installed a right heart pump and then a left heart pump on back to back days. On June 7, Garrett had a heart transplant and has been recovering since then.

Bill said they don’t know the name of the person who donated the heart other than that they were around the same age as Garrett and were from the Chicago area. The Finkbeiners are hoping to meet up with the donor’s family though through Donate 4 Life.

“He (Garrett) writes a letter, Donate 4 Life gets it and they redact anything that the family would be able to tell it’s him or find out who it is,” Bill said. “Then it’s the family’s decision as to whether or not they want to meet with Garrett. We’re hoping they do, but we understand if they don’t. It’s a difficult time. He’s had a hard time because he wanted to write them in December and do you write them now with Christmas and this is the first time their family has been without a person too. It weighs on him that way too. When he woke up, somebody else had to die for him to live and that’s a hard thing.”

Garrett is currently doing some weight training exercises to build some muscle as he lost somewhere between 45 and 50 pounds and struggled to hold his head up at the beginning. He’s shown visible progress though as he beat his dad in a game of H-O-R-S-E on the basketball court recently.

“The first year is critical for him,” Bill said. “They told us and they tell him every time we’re in (to see) the doctor, ‘You give us the first year, we’ll give you the rest of your life.’ As the year progresses here, now in January, just after the 1st, he has another appointment. He won’t have to do a heart biopsy. They’re down to every other month with that and as we get out to June, then it goes out to every three months. And then it just progressively gets further out (with) his appointments and things like that, as long as we don’t have any problems.”

Bill said Garrett has gotten hundreds of cards and waking up and reading them has been a highlight for his son. For Garrett, he’s just enjoying the fact that he gets to spend the holidays with his family and the community that has shown him their hearts.

“In general, I’m grateful and happy to just be here and be home,” he said. “Lots of times, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to actually see home again. It’s different than I would’ve ever imagined being home, but I’m very grateful for that and for the community too.”

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.

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