Hoping for a heart

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Springfield native awaits

By Stephanie Hornback

Larry Thompson doesn’t take life for granted anymore. He used to go, go, go, working constantly and rarely taking a moment to rest. Now, however, he doesn’t have a choice. His body can no longer hold up under the strain of a busy lifestyle.

At 46, Thompson, a Washington County native who lives in Bardstown, is one of 2,660 people in the United States waiting for a heart transplant. He has a family history of heart disease, and at 32, underwent bypass surgery and learned he’d had at least one, maybe two, heart attacks. The following year, 1996, he was diagnosed with coronary artery disease and had angioplasty to remove buildup in his arteries.

In April, after having his gall bladder removed, Thompson had another heart attack in the recovery room. His heart muscle is damaged beyond repair and can’t withstand more surgery. A heart transplant is Thompson’s only option.

Easily fatigued from restricted oxygen flow, Thompson is coming to terms with the fact that someone must die in order for him to live. Before he started working with a transplant team at Jewish Hospital and was placed on the waiting list for a heart, he never gave organ donation much consideration. It isn’t a very pleasant thought on which to dwell, he said.

Jenny Miller Jones, Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates (KODA) director of education, realizes thinking about one’s untimely death can be unsettling, but she emphasizes how many people can be helped should the unthinkable occur. According to KODA, one person’s decision to become an organ donor can benefit as many as 50 people — one heart patient, one liver recipient, two lung patients, two kidney patients, one diabetic (pancreas), two people with impaired vision (corneas) three or four burn victims and numerous recipients of bone grafts.

Jones said knowing a loved one’s organs helped someone live and thrive can help families recover from their loss.

“I can’t tell you how much it means to them,” she said.

The organ recipient’s identity is protected, but the donor’s family receives information about how many people were helped, such as “a mother of three received your daughter’s heart.”

“It is the greatest legacy that we can leave. There are so many people in need, and I think all of us need to ask ourselves if we or one of our close loved ones needed an organ to live, would we want one to be available,” Jones said. “If that answer is yes, then we seriously need to think about ourselves being a donor.”

Simply signing and placing a sticker on the driver’s license is no longer enough, Jones said. Although it is a good indicator of one’s wishes, there is always the chance that the license can be misplaced, or that an accident may occur in a state that cannot accept a license as proof that one wanted to be an organ donor, Jones said.

The most reliable way to ensure one’s organs are donated is to join the online registry, www.donatelifeky.org