When one desperately needed life-saving surgery, God reunited two former high school rivals 40 years later. And the deep friendship that followed makes this inspiring short story so powerful!
In 1969, long before the life-saving surgery, Willie Mack Titus (now 66) and Carl Luikart (now 65) were complete strangers. But God was about to unite these two for a bigger purpose.
High School Rivalry Paves The Way
Their paths first crossed the end of that year when Willie’s McKinley High School basketball team came to play against Carl’s at Catholic High.
Both boys played on their school’s Junior Varsity basketball teams. And though they didn’t know each other personally, that made them “rivals.”
Their first game against each other was a historic one because it was the first time a predominantly black school played against a predominantly white school in any athletic event in East Baton Rouge Parish. Catholic High administrators received death threats for allowing the game. And Willie and his teammates from McKinley High felt a lot of pressure to prove themselves.
"All eyes were on us," he said. "I couldn't wait to get to the dressing room. ... We just had a desire to play the best game we could ever play. It was that black-white thing."
Both Willie Mack Titus and Carl Luikart played in the Junior Varsity game that day, which Catholic squeaked by to win. McKinley took victory in the Varsity game. Then, next season, McKinley beat Catholic in the two games they played, including a crushing 125-49 victory on their home court.
"I couldn't have told you who Willie Mack was until they beat us by 76 points," Carl said. "After that game, I never forgot any of their starting five - ever."
After high school, the two went their separate ways. They didn’t speak or keep in touch. But 40 years later, God used a life-saving surgery to bring Willie Mack back into Carl’s life!
God Reunites ‘Rivals’ For Life-Saving Surgery
Even though Willie Mack Titus and Carl Luikart both returned to their hometown after college, their lives carried on separately for years. Willie Mack worked as a public school teacher while Carl became a cardiologist.
In 2013, Carl’s nurse told him a man wanted to see him. Carl wasn’t accepting new patients at the time, but the name the nurse mentioned stood out to him — Willie Titus. Carl confirmed it was, in fact, the same Willie Mack he’d played against in high school. And from what he’d learned over the years, even before learning about the life-saving surgery, Carl knew divine intervention had to be behind this reunion!
"At times when I'm not feeling real good about myself, I will pray to the good Lord and ask him to put somebody in my path today that I can help," he said. "For five to seven years prior to this event, every once in a while he would test me. Somebody needed my help. ... That seed had been planted in me."
On the day Willie Mack showed up at Carl’s office, he’d been about to get a pacemaker put in by another doctor. But something didn’t feel right, so he canceled the appointment.
After telling an old friend from high school, Darrell Glasper, about the situation, Darrell drove him to Carl’s office. Even though it had been about 40 years, Carl still remembered Willie Mack and the old “rivals” spent some time chatting about basketball.
"I wanted him to know I remember how badly they beat us," Carl said.
Friendship Grows Deeper Before Life-Saving Surgery
Willie Mack’s heart was in bad shape due to congestive heart failure. But he was now right where he was supposed to be, with the perfect doctor for him.
Over the next five years, Carl Luikart treated Willie Mack Titus and did all he could to manage his heart condition. But eventually, it became clear Willie Mack needed surgery to install an LVAD pump.
"As our friendship got closer and closer, his heart got weaker and weaker," Carl recalls. "In April of 2018, it was a matter of life and death. There was nothing more that I could do in Baton Rouge. ... He needed a new pump."
Carl connected Willie Mack with a specialist who could perform the life-saving surgery he so desperately needed. But with the intensely difficult recovery process with this procedure, candidates without a strong support system at home won’t be considered.
Sadly, Willie Mack and his wife didn’t have the best relationship. He wasn’t confident in her ability to provide the type of care he would need. And that would have meant getting rejected for this life-saving surgery, except that God had already been preparing the high school rivals for this exact moment!
Doctor Opens His Home To His Old Friend
As a doctor, Carl Luikart felt the cottage behind his home was the perfect place for Willie Mack to recover, especially considering his wife, Diana, is a former nurse. She’d be capable of providing the specialized type of care his friend was going to need.
Even though Diana had only met Willie Mack once, she agreed to her husband’s request and was willing to aid in Willie Mack’s recovery.
"Carl has a big heart, huge heart," Diana Luikart explained. "I felt that if he thought this guy needed somebody to help recover from this ... we had the cottage. I had experience. We could do this.”
What the couple initially thought might be a couple of weeks turned into a couple of years of recovery from the life-saving surgery. But during that time, Willie Mack Titus grew even closer to Carl Luikart and his family.
When the Luikart’s threw Willie Mack a party that year for his 65th birthday, the man broke down in tears.
"He told my wife, ‘That's the first time in 65 years anybody celebrated my birthday.' He was 65 years old," Carl recalled.
God used Willie Mack’s life-saving surgery to bless the Luikarts in special ways, too.
Life-Saving Surgery Turns ‘Rivals’ Into Family
Since someone always needed to be with Willie Mack, Carl and Diana started having more dinners at home with their children and grandchildren. And before long, Willie Mack was an integral part of the family!
The LVAD pump was only meant to buy Willie Mack time until he could receive a heart and kidney transplant. Those procedures took place a few months ago, and he returned to the cottage for recovery. And this time, he had the entire Luikart family cheering him on!
Carl’s 6-year-old grandson, Dawson, sent Willie Mack into the transplant with a picture he drew of a truck hauling a heart. Carl’s 9-year-old granddaughter Abigal held Willie Mack’s hand as he did laps around the Luikart’s pool as a part of his rehab.
Clearly, God brought these two together for more than just a life-saving surgery. And their bond goes deeper than just that of two former basketball rivals!
Divine Intervention Results In Inspiring Friendship
Because of the segregation that existed in the 60’s, Carl Luikart and Willie Mack Titus likely would have never met. It’s only because of the hard work of civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. that sports opened a door for their paths to cross.
Because of God’s intricate design, those basketball games opened the door to Willie Mack’s life-saving surgery, as well as to a friendship that has enriched both men’s lives deeply.
And it’s a friendship that’s continuing to break down the racial divides that still exist in our society today.
"People say, ‘What a great thing you've done for Willie Mack.' Well, it's really just the opposite," Carl explained. "He's brought a gift of inspiration to our family. He's made our grandchildren different... They've gotten to know a black man who is somebody of character, so they won't be afraid as they move forward."
This inspiring short story is such a powerful reminder of just how intricate God’s plan truly is. No matter how big or how small, He is always using the moments in our lives for something greater!
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h/t & Featured Image: The Advocate