April is National Donate Life Month. According to Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network, every 10 minutes, a new person joins the national transplant waiting list, and on average, 22 people die every day waiting for an organ donation.
Robert Reyes knows all too well the magnitude organ donation can have on someone’s life.
At the age of 39, Robert was diagnosed with coronary artery disease that progressively turned into congestive heart failure. After nearly 20 years of living with the disease, it was determined that Robert needed a new heart. After 162 days of being listed on the UNOS heart transplant waitlist, Robert received his heart.
“Robert is a very special patient,” says Dr. Ambar Andrade, advanced heart failure cardiologist at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill. “Robert developed significant coronary artery disease in 2002, leading to bypass surgery. Over the next two decades, his bypass grafts would become occluded, leading to congestive heart failure and ventricular arrhythmias. He was referred to our surgeons for a re-do Coronary Artery Bypass Graft (CABG), and it was determined he wasn’t a good candidate due to severe ischemic cardiomyopathy. He received a Ventricular Assist Device as a bridge to transplant.”
Often, patients meet their heart failure doctors at the most vulnerable points of their lives.
“I felt like every day, I had to go into his room to give him difficult news, and he would always say, ‘I trust you doc – do what you have to do.’ He never failed in his trust in OUR abilities to take care of him,” says Dr. Andrade.
Last week, on April 11, Robert celebrated the first anniversary of his heart transplant.
“It’s been a wonderful transformation since my transplant,” says Robert. “I’ve been able to do things I wasn’t able to before. I can walk without getting tired, enjoy doing the things I love with family and my overall quality of life is 100 percent better.”
Mr. Reyes says the big joke after he received his transplant was his new heart restarted his whole life. His care team and family saw a dramatic change in him.
“I am so grateful to be one of Robert’s heart transplant cardiologists at Advocate Christ,” says Dr. Andrade. “One of my mentors once told me, in the world of heart failure, the highs are high, and the lows are low. I am enjoying the high moments with Robert these days and am happy the lows are far behind us.”
Robert feels a special place in his heart for his donor and says he is living each day for both of them. Robert hasn’t met his donor’s family yet, but hopes to speak with them one day and show how much the gift of life they gave him means to him.
“Without my donor’s donation, I might not be here right now, sharing my story with others in hopes that they will make the decision to give someone else the possibility at life,” he adds. “I’m forever grateful to my donor and his family for the second chance they gave me to live my life with my two daughters and wife.”
This year, Advocate Christ Medical Center and Advocate Children’s Hospital partnered with Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network and Eversight Illinois to celebrate National Donate Life Month. They planted more than 1,300 pinwheels on the hospitals’ campus to honor organ donors who have given the gift of life and donor recipients who have received a second chance at life over the last decade at the hospitals or medical center. One of those pinwheels represents Mr. Reyes and his inspiring journey.
Choosing to sign up on your state registry to be an organ donor means that someday, you could save lives as a donor – by leaving behind the gift of life. Learn more about how you can give this lifesaving gift here.