Organ donors give the gift of life

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By Moreland Jeff


My dad has had a change of heart recently.

Actually, he received a new heart via transplant on Sept. 29.

In a way, it had been a long time coming, but in other ways, the wait was extremely short.

Dad’s heart problems began when I was in high school, and he was about to turn 37 years old.

In the summer of 1988, I was gone on a trip with friends to Charleston, South Carolina. My parents were home and my mom was getting ready to go to a friend’s wedding just up the street from our house.

Dad was home, and he would stay there. He wasn’t feeling well, but he wouldn’t tell Mom before she left.

A short time later, Dad suffered a massive heart attack. He was lying in the kitchen floor, unable to reach the only phone in the house at the time, which was a wall-mounted phone in the kitchen.

It was nothing but God’s plan that Dad would survive that day, because as he lay on the floor suffering a heart attack, that wall-mounted phone rang. He grabbed a nearby broom and knocked it off the hook. The person on the other end of the line was one of Dad’s best friends, and Dad simply uttered the words, “I’m dying.”

His friend, who lived very close, rushed to the house, broke down the door and called 911. Dad was flown to UK Medical Center in Lexington. He spent several weeks in the hospital, but he survived.

Over the years, his heart problems continued, and he had numerous procedures, including open-heart surgery.

Dad hadn’t felt good in a long time, and earlier this year, when he went in the hospital for a heart catheterization, the doctors told him they could not perform the procedure, and in fact, they could not do anything for him. His heart had simply gotten to the point that it was worn out, and he would have to have a transplant.

In June, he was officially placed on the list to receive a heart transplant, and his doctors told him some patients wait months, or even years to receive one, while others die waiting for a heart.

It wasn’t easy news to process, but he had no other option. Dad simply began to wait. He was told to stay in Kentucky, and to not go more than two hours away from the hospital. This was all so he could make it in quickly for the transplant, should a heart become available.

On Thursday, Sept. 28, I was just sitting down to a late dinner with my wife when the telephone rang. My stepmom was on the phone, and she said, “It’s time.”

At first, I wasn’t thinking of the transplant, but after just a moment, I realized what she meant. We put dinner on the back burner, literally, and headed for the hospital.

The surgery was set to take place early the next morning.

Before the procedure began, doctors had to make sure the donor heart was in good shape, and thankfully, it was. Dad went back for surgery just before 10 a.m., and he came out before 7 p.m. that evening.

Everything had gone well, and around 7:30 p.m., he was in a room in the intensive care unit and we were able to see him.

Everything appeared to have gone well, according to the doctors. The next few days would be tense, and they kept Dad medicated and unconscious, breathing on a ventilator. Finally, they dialed his medications back on Sunday, and he began to awaken.

The surgery had been a success, and the new heart was beating strongly in his chest. He experienced little pain, other than what doctors said should be expected after such a procedure. In no time, nurses began to get Dad out of bed and into a chair, and then it was on to walking short distances with a walker.

Those short walks turned into longer ones around the intensive care unit, and this past Sunday, just more than a week after receiving a new heart, Dad walked from his room in the ICU, and down the hall to a regular room on the same floor.

As I write this on Tuesday, Oct. 10, less than two weeks after receiving a new heart, doctors are talking about Dad getting to go home later this week.

A miracle. That’s all you can call it. I know heart transplants are much more common than they used to be, but still, it’s nothing short of a miracle. To stand beside my dad, place that stethoscope in my ears and listen to that heart beating, his new heart beating, was simply amazing.

There’s a long road ahead, but God clearly has a plan for my dad, and he and our entire family were blessed, thanks to the selflessness of a donor who provided a lifesaving transplant.

We still don’t know anything about Dad’s donor, and we may never know. It all depends on Dad and the donor’s family deciding they want to meet each other. One thing we were told was that “several people” benefited from the donor who provided Dad’s heart, and we were told there was at least one lung and one kidney transplant performed the same day of Dad’s heart transplant; we can only assume all of the organs donated came from the same donor.

I don’t know about you, but I am registered as an organ donor. When God decides it’s time for me to leave this earth, I’ll no longer be able to use this body, and if anybody can benefit from any part of it, I would be glad to give someone else the same gift my family received.

According to numbers provided by the United Network for Organ Sharing (www.unos.org), there have been 68,144 heart transplants performed since Jan. 1, 1988, the same year Dad suffered his heart attack. Last year, there were 3,191 heart transplants performed in the U.S., which equals just fewer than nine per day.

So far this year, there have been 2,444 heart transplants in the U.S., with 46 of those being in Kentucky.

It’s not just hearts, there are other organs transplanted as well. And those waiting continue to do so. As of Tuesday morning, UNOS reported 116,536 people in the U.S. awaiting a lifesaving organ transplant. The site also reports that 26,034 transplants have been performed in the U.S. through August of this year, and 12,211 people have served as donors.

After seeing the miracle of life provided by the donor who saved my dad, I can only hope you will join me as a registered organ donor, too. It’s truly the greatest gift you will ever give, and the greatest someone else will ever receive.