When it comes to matters of the heart, Chuck and Dodie Haight have plenty of experience - in more ways than one.
They were both 18 when friends introduced them at a party in Portland. Chuck didn't exactly sweep Dodie off her feet with sparkling conversation. "He didn't talk to me the whole evening," she recalls with a laugh. "But it was funny. When I went to go home he got on the bus with me."
That was that until they ran into each other again as students at Washington State University. They've been together ever since.
Sixty-four years of marriage, three children, eight grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren later, the now 84-year-old couple counts travel adventures that have taken them from Europe to Africa to South America and Asia (including two trips to China) among their most cherished memories.
Their Ellensburg home reflects their love of travel. An expansive collection of foreign dolls, begun by Dodie's aunt in the late 1930s and added to by Dodie over the years, is displayed in a glass case in the room that is their study. An assortment of hats, collected from a host of foreign countries, hang on a wall in the same room. But there was a time when it seemed their traveling days might be at an end.
In 2007, and just returned from a trip to Russia, Chuck experienced shortness of breath, the first sign of what later would prove to be serious heart trouble.
Two years later on their way back from a trip to Europe, the couple had a layover in New York City because they couldn't make a connection. That inconvenience just might have saved Chuck's life, Dodie says now. That night, he woke in distress. "Get me to the hospital," he told Dodie. Rushed to a hospital in Queens, he underwent a battery of tests that were inconclusive, the couple says."They knew something was going on, but they weren't quite sure what," Dodie says.
Days later, doctors released him, advising to contact his doctor as he got home. He did - and the search for an answer continued.
Ten days later, Dodie says, she woke in the middle of the night to find Chuck sprawled on the kitchen floor. Medics arrived and rushed Chuck to KVH Hospital where he was treated and released, after a full evaluation showed no clear explanation.
Evidence that something was seriously wrong was mounting. A week or so later, Chuck collapsed again. As Chuck's physician Dr. Don Solberg had previously advised, Dodie attached a Holter monitor, a device capable of tracking heart rhythms. According to Dr. Solberg, the device showed that Chuck had periods of very slow heart rates. Dodie recalls: "I got the heart rate and I could tell it wasn't right. I was reading it while I was talking to 911." Rushed to KVH Hospital again, Chuck was stabilized and then transported to Yakima Regional Medical and Cardiac Center. He needed a permanent pacemaker to stabilize his heart rhythms.
A day later, Chuck was home - with a new lease on life.
"I just feel good all the time," he said in a recent interview. That same morning he'd walked the short distance from the couple's condo to KVH Hospital for a test. "I was a little out of breath but before the pacemaker I couldn't have done that."
What's ahead? More travel if Chuck has his say. He and Dodie are planning a trip to visit a daughter who teaches in Milan. An American Field Service exchange student from Denmark who spent a year in their home wants them to pay a visit to him and Cambodia and Vietnam are still on their to-do list. "We've been to Africa three times and we want to go back and there's a lot of South America we haven't seen yet," Chuck says.
As it happens, Chuck isn't the only one breathing easier - both literally and figuratively - these days. "I think we both relaxed a lot," Dodie says. "I don't worry like I used to. There's an answer now."