Photo by Chris Sonnenday, M.D., taken Easter morning.
Easter was already a special day for Nelson and Carole Thulin. The Milford couple was excited to have their three adult children home to spend a meaningful Sunday together, rejoicing in the new life signified by the holiday, and the promise of spring.
This year’s holiday started early, though, with a 1 a.m. phone call: Nelson Thulin, too, would receive the gift of life this year. His new liver was ready, and he needed to head into the hospital for surgery.
“There couldn’t be a better day,” Thulin says. “People were always saying their prayers were with me, and then I spent Easter Sunday in the operating room.”
Trevor Sullivan’s mother hadn’t even meant to videotape her son’s emotional awakening after heart transplant surgery. She’d intended to take a photo with her mobile phone, but accidentally set it on video, instead.
Trevor, 15, said it was OK. He wanted to tell friends and family following his medical journey on Facebook that he felt “amazing” after 10 months on a transplant waiting list. “I’m so happy,” he said tearfully. “I’ve been waiting so long…I can breathe again. I can talk.”
The Southfield, Mich., family posted the touching video online, and it was shared on the Facebook site for Gift of Life Michigan. The video went viral from there, attracting upwards of 1.7 million views and international media coverage including nods from CNN, the Today show and the Washington Post.
More than 100 people gathered on The Diag in the middle of the U-M campus, along with Wolverines for Life, to create a line where there shouldn’t be a line. Participants raised awareness about how many people are waiting in line for life-saving donation of organs, blood or bone marrow. Our Wolverines for Life group strives for no tolerance of wait list deaths.
Nearly two months after receiving a new set of lungs, “I’m not sore!” is the first thing Kyle Clark, 25, of Imlay City likes to share about his near-miraculous lung transplant experience at the University of Michigan Health System. Kyle was born with cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening genetic disease that floods the body with mucus, which builds up and reduces the ability of organs like the lungs to do their job.
Over the years, cystic fibrosis slowly damaged Kyle’s lungs, interfering with his college education, job and one of his favorite pastimes, hunting. By 2014 Kyle needed oxygen round the clock and reluctantly gave up most of the activities he loved. Breathing became a daily struggle, and Kyle was even admitted to UMHS at one point in critical condition, though he recovered enough to go home.
As a transplant surgeon for both kids and adults, I spend my days and nights waiting for the call that a precious, life-saving organ is available for one of our desperate patients — a call that doesn’t come nearly often enough. But I have faith that one day signing up as an organ donor will be as normal and routine as wearing a seat belt, a bike helmet or putting on sunscreen.
Every day 17 people across the country die waiting for an organ. There are 123,253 souls currently on the wait list who hope, pray, beg or bargain for someone to be their hero. At the same time, an untold number of people took their organs with them when they died instead of leaving them to live on in someone else.
It’s not only a loss for the patients waiting for organs, but a missed opportunity for family and friends of organ donors to experience the comfort and pride that comes from knowing their loved one saved a life or many lives – leaving this world as a hero.
Since 1984, The University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center Heart Transplant Program has performed more than 900 heart transplants, as well as implanting more than 500 ventricular assist devices (VADs) — most as a way to “bridge” patients to transplant. The U-M team also provides the multidisciplinary care required for complex transplant patients and includes specialists in advanced circulatory support, cardiac critical care, nutrition and social work.
This closely integrated team of cardiac transplant surgeons and transplant cardiologists is highly skilled in treating and implanting donor hearts in patients with the most urgent cardiac needs. U-M’s high volume, vast experience and active research program makes it a leader in heart transplant surgeries.
U-M patient David Parker received a new heart in December 2012. Today, he is living a full, active life that includes walking three miles, weight training and swimming most days of the week.
David shares his story of courage and his path back to living …
David Parker and his wife, Carol
“My name is David Parker. I am 64 years old and thankful to the University of Michigan cardiac team for my new life. I first became ill in 2001. I started with an irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation, or afib. I was in and out of the hospital getting ‘cardioverted,’ a procedure in which the heart is shocked back into normal sinus rhythm. After a while, the doctors saw that this was not going to work. So I went to the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center, where Dr. Hakan Oral and his team performed three ablations. This helped for a period of time, but the afib eventually returned.
I was getting weaker and weaker as time passed. My doctors decided the only thing that would work was a heart transplant. I was put into the hospital to try to build up my strength and was put on the heart transplant list. At this time, my organs were starting to shut down and I was told I was too sick for a heart transplant. My only other option was to have a left ventricle assist device (LVAD) inserted. An LVAD is an electrical pump that attaches to the heart and pumps blood throughout the body. With the LVAD surgery, performed by Dr. Jonathan Haft, my organs started improving. I had the LVAD for 11 months, running on batteries during the day and plugged into a wall outlet at night. During that time, I was put back on the heart transplant list. Continue reading →
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