National Donor Day: A New Heart for "Pappy"

By: Matt Thompson

Feb. 14 isn’t just Valentine’s Day. It’s also National Donor Day, a day to raise awareness about the importance of organ donation. More than 117,000 people in the U.S. are currently waiting for an organ transplant. Below is the story of Ed Thompson, whose heart transplant at UPMC in 2009 saved his life.

My dad, Ed, had a history of heart problems.  After multiple heart attacks, bypass surgeries and stents, his last attack damaged his heart and he was quickly dying.  We were nervous and excited when we found out he made the list for a heart transplant: excited because there was a ray of hope, nervous because being almost 70 years old put him well beyond the age that one typically goes through this procedure.
We prepared for what we felt was the most probable outcome, and tried to be sure nothing good was left unsaid.  In March of 2009, we got the call that he was on the way to UPMC, so we all headed from our various locations to Pittsburgh.  My brother and I were able to see him just as they were taking him back for the procedure and gave him a hug, what we thought may be our last time. 
It was a very long night, but we were always pleased to get updates from the staff.  After what I believe was 12 hours, Dr. Jay Bhama told us the surgery was over, and it was touch and go.  Because of some significant complications, my dad was at death’s door for several weeks and eventually all of his organs shut down.  We could tell that many of the staff were just waiting for him to pass, but we knew Dr. Bhama still believed there was hope.  It was an amazing three-month journey that allowed me to see a lot of people pulling together under a great doctor and leader, and my dad eventually regaining consciousness and surprising most of his caregivers.  He eventually graduated from ICU and was finally released from the hospital.  He was still very much at risk, but he was making progress.
Fast forward to 2013.  It’s been almost four years since his heart transplant and more than a year beyond his kidney transplant (his own kidneys never recovered), and he’s still going strong.  Today, in fact, he will be celebrating Valentine’s Day with his daughter and her children – in Atlanta!  Since he’s recovered from the transplants, he’s been travelling, welcoming grandbabies into the world, attending weddings of older grandchildren, hunting, attending church and telling stories to one and all.  His grandchildren, ages 3 months to 30+, have enjoyed making more memories with “Pappy.”
We want to thank the talented and dedicated staff of UPMC and especially the world’s greatest surgeon and caregiver, Dr. Bhama.  But all of this was made possible by the tremendous gift of love that gave my dad the gift of life – a heart.  The donor’s gift has allowed us to continue to love our dad, make more memories with Pappy, and to allow him to give his love to so many others.  

For more information on how you can become an organ donor, visit Donate Life America  or the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services website about organ donation.