A Niceville resident, surgeon and Air Force veteran recently celebrated his first anniversary of having a rare heart and liver transplant. He also became the domino donor for a man dying of liver failure.

BLUEWATER BAY — A local Air Force veteran said a near-death experience brought him the closest he’s been to God.


For 66-year-old Charles Williams, this holiday season is an especially wonderful time of year.


Roughly one year ago, the Bluewater Bay resident got a combined liver and heart transplant to fight a genetic condition threatening his life.


Along with getting a second chance, he also became the domino donor for a man dying of liver failure.


After climbing out of the trenches of death and inadvertently saving someone life, Williams found a new purpose.


"While I was at Ochsner (Medical Center) ... I made a pact with God that anyone (who) asked for my testimony, I would not refuse them," he said. "I felt that was my new mission in life and why he kept me around."


His bout officially began in 2016 when he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure.


Over the next year, additional tests revealed that the condition was caused by a hereditary disease called Transthyretin Amyloidosis.


According to Williams, who is also a retired surgeon, the disease "causes the liver to make abnormal proteins that end up in the heart and nerves, leading to congestive heart failure and peripheral nerve issues."


If only a heart transplant was done, his DNA would continue to miscode proteins.


Although receiving a double transplant is rare, Williams said it’s only half the battle. There’s also the possibility that his body might reject it. He added that his combined liver and heart transplant was the first in Ochsner Medical Center’s history.


"Even when you finally have the possibility of receiving a heart, then you have to go through the experience of worrying if it’s going to be compatible or not," he said. "It’s extremely rare that the first heart they brought me ... turned out to be completely compatible.


" ... I quickly realized how unusual, how significant all of this really was," he added. "I really, really sensed that this was going to be something much bigger than I expected."


In February, he traveled to New Orleans to meet the man who claimed his liver. Williams added that he got it with only about four months to live.


Along with touring the country to tell his story, Williams can often be found at the gym, gardening or spending time with his family.


He added that since the surgery, his lifestyle completely changed. He’s now just taking things day by day, after having a smooth climb toward recovery.


"We never draw closer to God than when we’re dying," he said. "When we’re dying, our concerns that consume us everyday ... completely and radically change."