Transplant patients encourage L.I. to “have a heart” on Organ Donor Enrollment Day

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Transplant patients encourage L.I.  to “have a heart” on Organ Donor Enrollment Day
Joining together to urge New Yorkers to enroll as organ donors are, back row, from left, Dr. David Majure, medical director of mechanical circulatory support at the Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital; Dr. Brian Lima, director of heart transplantation surgery at Northwell Health; and Senator Elaine Phillips. Front row, Rhonda Nardin, wife of Rene Nardin, who is on the heart transplant list, and Linda Sainvil, who received a new heart six weeks ago. (Photo courtesy of Northwell Health)

The numbers are staggering: Heart failure affects about five million Americans with almost one million new cases diagnosed each year. What makes this even more frightening is that there just aren’t enough healthy hearts to go around for transplant.

New York State is last nationally in terms of organ donation.

In an effort to turn the desperation of patients awaiting organ transplants into renewed hope, State Sen. Elaine Phillips (R-Manhasset) joined cardiac patients, their doctors and LiveOnNY to encourage New Yorkers to “have a heart” and sign up for organ donation.

During his opening remarks, Dr. Brian Lima, who is Northwell Health’s newly appointed director of heart transplantation surgery, announced that the NYS Public Health and Health Planning Council recently recommended approval of Northwell’s request to open a heart transplant center at the Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital at North Shore University Hospital.

“There are 337 people currently awaiting a heart in New York State,” Lima said. “It should be remembered that the total number of people in the United States on the heart transplant list is 4,015. In other words, nearly 10 percent of those waiting for a heart are from New York State. We are very proud of the fact that Northwell will be housing the first heart transplant center on Long Island.”

Dr. David Majure, who is medical director of Northwell’s mechanical circulatory support program, demonstrated the heart pump known as LVAD (left ventricular assisted device) that is commonly referred to as “the bridge to transplant.”

“The fact is that we still have to rely on machines such as these to keep patients alive while they wait for a new heart,” Majure said. “And, because they are machines, they are not perfect. That’s why it’s so important to offer a heart transplant program at North Shore University Hospital. This will enable heart failure patients to maintain continuity of care with their physicians and avoid the need to travel to Manhattan, the Bronx, or beyond.”

Linda Sainvil, of Queens Village, could not agree more. Seated next to Majure, Sainvil discussed her three open heart surgeries, the last of which involved an LVAD implant.

“I am one of the lucky ones,” Sainvil said. “I received my new heart just six weeks ago and I just want to thank my doctors here at North Shore University Hospital who fought so hard to help me achieve transplant. I often think of the families who have to experience the death of a loved one for those of us on a transplant list to receive the gift of life. I pray that Northwell has great success with this program.”

Rene Nardin and his wife, Rhonda, of Hicksville, are still waiting for a miracle. Having already survived two open heart surgeries and four heart attacks, Rene underwent LVAD surgery in May 2016 as a result of a debilitating heart condition. Now 57, Rene has been suffering with heart disease since his first heart attack 19 years ago.

“It would mean the world to me to get a transplant,” said Rene. “I am the face of all people in need of the gift of life. Please,” he said quietly, “please sign up.”

Following her husband’s remarks, Rhonda spoke passionately about the sadness involved in waiting for the phone call that will change their lives.

“I cry every day,” said Rhonda. “Not a day goes by that I don’t hope and pray for a new heart to come in for my husband. We also realize that someone has to die in order for my husband to get an organ. We are waiting for a miracle.”

In an emotional show of support, Rhonda concluded her remarks by signing an organ donor card. Sitting next to her was Natalie Benavides, vice president of external affairs for LiveOnNY, the sponsor of Organ Donor Enrollment Day.

“Every 18 hours, a New Yorker dies wanting for a transplant,” Benavides said. “The good news is that 4,000 people nationwide agreed to sign up to become a donor on this day last year. It is our sincere hope that we can beat that total today.”

To become an organ donor, visit LongLiveNY.org.

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