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Heart & Vascular Health | Heart Failure
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The Importance of Organ Donation: New Year, New Heart Episode 5

The tragedy and triumph of this life-saving gift

Awe. Thankfulness. Those were the two feelings that came to Karen Lyons when surgeon Nicholas Smedira, MD, walked into the waiting room early on New Year’s Eve to announce that her son Porter’s new heart was beating.

“My gosh, that man just finished doing a heart transplant,” Karen remembers thinking, “and then he was off to do another one.”

The transplant team

Fast fact

5: The number of hospitals, including Cleveland Clinic, testing the new Heart in a Box, which keeps a donor heart beating so that it can reach recipients who are farther away.

Heart transplant resources

Dr. Smedira is quick to point out what a team effort a transplant really is. “You walk in and get treated like a hero by the family,” he said, “yet you’re kind of embarrassed because it took 20 people to make it happen. It took the fly-out team to do it, the coordinators who were up all night the night before, the anesthesiologists and so on.”

It was another day in the office for this team; it was anything but for the family. Members of the Lyons family were already proponents of organ donation because of Doug’s history of transplants, but Porter’s experience renewed their vigor for the cause. As the months went on after his surgery, the family never passed up the chance to share their story about the importance of organ donation.

As Doug noted, organ donation is a tragedy on one end and a triumph on the other. Even for Dr. Smedira, who has performed countless transplants, the experience is still moving.

“You can’t do what I do and not take stock of your life,” he said. “The latest donor that we had was a young boy. So you realize that for every happy family in one waiting room here, somewhere else around the country there’s a waiting room where a grieving family has lost a loved one.”

Tags: dilated cardiomyopathy, heart disease, heart failure, heart transplant, Porter Lyons, VAD
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  • http://twitter.com/NewHeart1293 NewHeart1293

    As a fellow heart transplant recipient, I admit I’m in awe every day and all I can say is THANK YOU!!!!!

  • ofmenandmountains

    My son was. You cannot imagine how hard it was signing those papers in a sterile, windowless room while my son lay hooked up to wires and hoses rooms away. It is horrible on so many levels for the donor family – the grief is one thing, not hearing anything – not even a thank you from the recipients is another. The system might work well for the recipients, but not for the donor families. When you hear someone say they have received a cadaver bone – your heart almost explodes – my son was not a cadaver. His heart was beating until they removed it from his body. We have heard from a few of he recipients and I understand that it must be hard for them but you would think the first thing they would want to do is thank the family whose loss is beyond imagining. Because of my son someone received lungs, a heart, a liver, kidneys, vision, tendons, ligaments, skin. Was it what he wanted – yes – he requested to be an organ donor but it is fraught with moral issues that have not been explored at the rate that the technology has developed. I am always amazed that people say “pray they find a heart” Oh my God. What are they asking?