DALLAS – The first item Tim Ervin wanted to check off his bucket list after he received a double lung transplant was to play the national anthem on his trumpet at a professional sporting event.
And thanks in large part to Neil Herskowitz, assistant equipment manager of the Dallas Mavericks, Irvin can now check that off his bucket list.
Ervin and Herskowitz struck up a friendship when they met this past April at a transplant reunion dinner at UT Southwestern in Dallas. Herskowitz found out about Ervin’s budding career playing the trumpet and wanted to help.
“I spoke (at the transplant reunion dinner) and played my trumpet,” Ervin said. “Neil came up to me and asked me if I would be interested (in playing the national anthem at a Mavs game). So the ball started rolling from there.”
And once that ball stopped rolling, Ervin was playing the national anthem at a recent Mavs’ game against the world champion Golden State Warriors before a sold out crowd of 19,857 at American Airlines Center.
It was a surreal scene for Ervin, who, for the last 25 years has been the Minister of Music for First Baptist Church in Mount Pleasant, TX.
“I’ve played the national anthem at many places, but never at a professional sporting event,” Ervin said. “I’ve played before crowds of 400-500 before, I’ve played for high school events, I’ve played for some college events, I’ve played weddings, I’ve played Taps for funerals for years. But this is probably – to this point – the largest crowd I’ve played for.”
And just think, Ervin never thought he would be blessed to witness a day like the one he experienced on Oct. 23. Because of his health scare due to his failing lungs, his dream of playing the trumpet again, he figured, was over.
“I was diagnosed in 2012 with pulmonary fibrosis,” the 59-year old Ervin said. “Then as the disease progressed the only option was a lung transplant, so I was recommended by my doctor in Shreveport, LA, to come to UT Southwestern in Dallas for an evaluation. That was in June of 2014. By then, I was to the point where I had quit playing the trumpet. I was having limited lung capacity in what I had to do.”
Then, Ervin received the telephone call that forever changed his life.
“I did three months of transplant evaluation where they test you to see if you’re strong enough to survive the surgery,” he said. “All of the other organs were in great shape, which was good.”
“To be honest with you, I thought I’d never play the trumpet again. I didn’t know that I was going to be able to be a candidate for a transplant. And as I went through that process and then you get that call and they say, ‘Mr. Ervin, we have lungs for you, how fast can you get to Dallas?’ ”
Ervin’s double lung transplant occurred on Oct. 9, 2014.
Herskowitz, the assistant equipment manager for the Mavs, can certainly relate to Ervin’s ordeal. Herskowitz’ life also took a turn for the worst until he received a double lung transplant on Oct. 11, 2015.
So as he heard Ervin discuss his journey during the transplant reunion dinner, it definitely resonated with him.
“Tim was the keynote speaker that night and so he gave a speech and then played his trumpet,” Herskowitz said. “As part of his introduction they said that he’s a life-long trumpet player and when he got sick he couldn’t play, and now that he’s healed and better and playing the trumpet again, one of his goals was to play in a national big-time sporting event.”
“So fortunately (the Mavs) were able to make that happen for him.”
Herskowitz and Ervin are both aware of their unique relationship, and of the second chance at life they’ve received.
“We’re bonded by our gratefulness and our good fortune, and having the (double lung) surgery and it being successful,” Herskowitz said. “But at the same time, he’s a married religious man with kids and I’m a single non-religious guy without kids.”
“But that’s the cool thing about transplants. It doesn’t really matter your beliefs or your background or really what you’ve got going on. That’s the link that brings people together, because without that, I probably would have never met him and really don’t have too much in common with him. But we know we have that shared experience and I was just happy that it worked out.”
While Ervin and Herskowitz may be polar opposites, they are both appreciative of the donor(s) who helped save their lives.
“There’s probably not a day that goes by that I don’t think about the donor, because that person. . .to me, that’s my hero,” said Ervin, who has been playing the trumpet since he was 11. “Because in their unselfishness, they became an organ donor so that I can live and many other people could live as well.”
“I’ve had many, many people come up to me the last three years and say, ‘I’m an organ donor now because I know you.’ So if I can put a face on transplants and on being an organ donor, then that’s probably the great honor from all this. Getting to play (the national anthem) was just kind of like the icing on the cake.”
So how well did Ervin play the trumpet during the national anthem at the Mavs’ game?
“The Mavs’ people were great in making that happen for him, and I think he did a great job,” Herskowitz said. “It was a really cool moment to take in, and I think he enjoyed it and hopefully the fans and everyone that got to witness it enjoyed it.”
“I know it was important for him, too, not just for himself, but just to show that people can have this (double lung) transplant and be successful and do things that a lot of people might think aren’t even possible.”
Before Ervin wowed the American Airlines Center crowd with his rendition of the national anthem, he and Herskowitz shared a fun moment.
“I joked with him beforehand,” Herskowitz said. “I said, ‘Hey man, this is big time right now. You’ve got to bring it.’”
“But he was ready, he was prepared and I think he crushed it. So it was awesome.”