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. In fact, New York State is last nationally in terms of organ donation.
Much of the same can be said about people in dire need of a new kidney. There are hundreds of New Yorkers currently on the kidney transplant waiting list — and many people wait at least five years (sometimes 10) for a kidney from a deceased donor. The waiting list has doubled in size over the last decade.
In an effort to turn the desperation of patients awaiting organ transplants into renewed hope, Helen Irving, president and CEO, LiveOnNY, joined two patients awaiting new organs and their doctors in an urgent plea to New Yorkers to “have a heart” and become organ donors.
During his opening remarks, Dr. Lewis Teperman, director of transplant services at Northwell, explained how dire the situation in the United States truly is.
“There are currently over 120,000 people waiting for organ transplants in the United States,” said Teperman, “and only 18,000 deceased donors. What that means, quite simply, is that we don’t have enough organs to fill the need. We know that transplantation works, but we need the donors. It’s as simple as that.”
Dr. David Majure, who is medical director of Northwell’s mechanical circulatory support program, noted that the goal of heart transplantation is to get people back to their roles in society and fully able to participate in the activities they love.
“Heart transplantation can really change the course of a patient’s life,” he said. “Organ shortages such as we continue to experience severely limits our ability to transform a patient’s life.”
Dr. Elliot Grodstein, a surgical oncologist at Northwell, echoed these sentiments. “We see so many terrible things in the news these days,” he said. “The best part of my job is seeing people who make the decision to donate in order to help save a life. I consider doing this work with such fine people to be a great honor.”
Simone Tibbets, 40, of Bellmore, is in desperate need of a healthy kidney. Diagnosed with lupus three months after giving birth in 2008, Tibbets underwent several hospital visits because she just wasn’t feeling well. In early 2009, after a battery of tests because of excruciating pain, it was revealed that Tibbets was in renal failure. She has been on dialysis since 2011, and on the kidney transplant list since 2015.
“I’m hopeful that one day the phone will ring and that there will be a kidney for me,” Tibbets said. “Saving a life is a tremendous act of kindness. You can make such a difference when you gift of gift of life. I’m here today to encourage everyone to get on the list. Sign the organ donor card… so much depends on this.”
Virginia Spolan, 69, of Forest Hills, suffered a heart attack in December 2016. The event was so traumatic that she can’t remember any details. All she knows is that she was taken to LIJ Forest Hills and woke up two months later — after having been placed in a medically-induced coma — at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset.
In December 2017, Spolan underwent Left Ventricular Assisted Device surgery, which is keeping her alive. She hopes that people will be moved by her story and become organ donors.
When asked about the significance of Organ Donor Enrollment Day on Oct. 10, Spolan said simply, “I hope everyone who hears this will sign the organ donor card. I just want my life back.”
Speaking on behalf of LivOnNY, Irving said, “We need the support from our community. We urge you to make a selfless gift and sign the organ donation card. We can only help our fellow New Yorkers when we work together as a community.”
To sign on to become an organ donor, please visit LongLiveNY.org.