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Terrell Hansen, 65; recipient of heart transplant inspired a novel

January 07, 2007|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Terrell Hansen, an Orange County heart transplant recipient who inspired author Michael Connelly to write "Blood Work," the best-selling mystery novel that became a Clint Eastwood movie, has died. He was 65.

Hansen, a Garden Grove resident, died Tuesday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center of complications from a stroke he suffered in April, said his wife, Linda.

For a first-time novelist at his first book signing, Connelly couldn't have met a more enthusiastic fan than Hansen at the Mysterious Bookshop in West Hollywood in 1992.

Forced to retire from his job as a mechanical engineer at a heavy construction equipment manufacturing company after he was diagnosed with a life-threatening heart disease in 1991 and placed on a waiting list for a heart transplant, Hansen had become a part-time book dealer specializing in modern first-edition mysteries.

A Los Alamitos resident at the time, Hansen already had read a prepublication copy of Connelly's "The Black Echo" and gave it high praise when he approached the author with a stack of books to sign.

But that wasn't the end of it.

"He was going up to people browsing in the store and telling them about 'The Black Echo,' " Connelly recalled last week. "They had no idea who I was. He was giving them his business card and saying if they didn't like the book, he'd buy it back from them because he knew it would be valuable in the future. He used to like to say that no one ever called to sell him the book."

Connelly, then a Los Angeles Times police reporter, saw Hansen again at other book signings, and a friendship developed.

By the time Hansen received his heart transplant at Cedars-Sinai on Valentine's Day in 1993, Connelly was such a close friend that he was one of the few visitors allowed into the recovery room.

Hansen had predicted that "The Black Echo" would win the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Award for best first novel. And when it did win, Hansen was the only person Connelly called from a pay phone outside the banquet room in New York.

At the time, Hansen was back in the hospital, the result of complications of his transplant.

As Hansen recovered, Connelly said, "what struck me was he was the recipient of a modern miracle of science, basically. But it all didn't go that well. He was hit pretty hard by survivor's guilt, the sense of feeling badly that someone died in order for him to live."

Hansen, who was 51 when he received the transplant, never met the family of his donor, but he knew she was an 18-year-old girl who had been killed in an auto accident.

"From a friend's point of view, I felt badly for him," Connelly said of Hansen's emotions over knowing that someone had to die so he could continue living.

"From the standpoint of a writer, I saw the grist for a character," he added. "I thought if I could write a story about someone going through this, it could be a character that would live in people's imaginations."

Hansen agreed to give Connelly complete access to his life in researching the character for his novel, and the writer accompanied him on doctor visits and spent three or four days a week one summer just hanging out with Hansen.

"I wanted everything," Connelly said, "the physical-medical journey -- I wanted to get that right -- and the spiritual journey as well: How do you live with this?"

"Blood Work," his tale of a retired FBI agent who investigates the death of the young woman whose heart he received in surgery, was published in 1998 and became Connelly's first book to hit the New York Times bestseller list.

Connelly, who dedicated "Blood Work" to Hansen, also named his main character Terry McCaleb -- taking Hansen's first name and that of Connelly's daughter.

Hansen also accompanied Connelly on many of his book signings for "Blood Work" in Southern California, where they both spoke to audiences.

"He loved Michael and respected Michael so much for his writing," Linda Hansen said. "He was just so honored that Michael included him."

Said Connelly: "I thought it would be interesting for readers to be able to hear and question the real subject who inspired the book. It was just a thank-you to him to share the spotlight with him because the book wouldn't have happened without him."

"Blood Work" was turned into a 2002 film of the same name, directed by Eastwood, who starred as Terry McCaleb.

Hansen and his wife joined Connelly in observing the filming of the movie on location near the Queen Mary in Long Beach, where they met Eastwood. The Hansens also attended the movie's premiere and party at the Warner Bros. studio with Connelly.

Over the last decade, the Chicago-born Hansen, who served a stint in the Air Force in the 1960s and studied mechanical engineering at Fullerton College, faced a number of serious medical problems. In addition to complications after his heart transplant, he dealt with Legionnaires' disease in 1999 and a received a transplanted kidney from his wife in 2002.

Since then, his wife said, he had been in excellent health until his stroke in April.

"He didn't like being in a hospital," said Connelly, who flew to Los Angeles from his home in Tampa, Fla., to speak at Hansen's memorial service Friday in Huntington Beach. "He wanted to live his life. But at the same time, he knew he had been given a gift."

In addition to his wife of 10 years, Hansen is survived by his children, Kristen Daulley, Terry Hansen, Loren Hansen and Kamey Blotzer; his stepchildren, Susan Owens and Robbie Owens; and several grandchildren.


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