|Oxford Selectman David Yish, the recipient of a donor heart in 2007, now actively promotes organ donation via his participation in Donate Life Connecticut. Mr. Yish is currently on the organization’s board of directors. (Quirke photo)|
Afflicted with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a weakening of the heart muscle, he anxiously waited for a donor heart.
Having exhausted all other medical means for supporting his heart function, including medications and heart-regulating devices, doctors at the hospital had told him that replacing his failing, enlarged heart with a healthy donor one was his only hope for resuming a normal life.
Mr. Yish, whose father died at 51 of a similar condition, began experiencing heart problems four years earlier.
He had been painting his house on Moose Hill Road when his heart assumed an irregular rhythm.
Mr. Yish thought his body was reacting to the paint fumes, but, as a precaution, he went to Griffin Hospital to have it checked out.
He ended up being hospitalized for two weeks during which time doctors implanted a pacemaker/defibrillator in his chest.
By Christmastime, his condition had worsened. After spending the holiday in the intensive care unit at Griffin, he was transferred to Hartford Hospital and placed on a heart transplant list.
Upon discharge, he was assigned to a cardio rehab program at Griffin where he improved so much that his name was taken off the list.
"They taught me how to eat better and to exercise.
"If it weren't for them, I don't know if I'd have had the strength to get the transplant," he noted.
In March 2007, however, after having been hospitalized a number of times, he was told by doctors at Hartford Hospital that he wouldn't be discharged until he received a new heart.
Initially, the prospect of receiving someone else's heart was shocking, Mr. Yish recalled. But over time he became mentally prepared and eagerly awaited the procedure.
"I was tired of being tired," he said.
Mr. Yish recalled how, during a baseball game he attended with his family, it had begun to rain and, while everyone dashed for their cars, he was unable to muster up the strength to run.
He said he was embarrassed and disheartened to have his son see him so weakened.
On March 21, 2007, he entered Hartford Hospital, prepared to wait months for a donor match. As he waited, his condition rapidly deteriorated and his name was moved up the list.
On April 2, while he prayed with his family and friends for a new heart, he had an epiphany. He would receive a new heart on April 4.
"The date just came to me,'' he recalled.
Mr. Yish remembered April 3 as the first quiet day he had had in a long time. Up to then, he had been sustaining shocks from his defibrillator as his heart faltered and labored to continue functioning.
On April 4, when a nurse instructed him not to eat or drink anything, he knew his premonition had come true.
Mr. Yish underwent eight hours of surgery and was kept sedated until Easter Sunday, four days later.
He spent a month more in the hospital during which time he endured a number of complications.
"It was long road back," he said.
Mr. Yish always will have to take special precautions, including taking anti-rejection medications and undergoing annual stress tests, angiograms and heart biopsies to make sure his new heart remains healthy.
Still, he considers himself lucky. Of all the heart transplant recipients at Hartford Hospital in 2007, he is the only one who hasn't had to be readmitted.
"I'm doing pretty good," said Mr. Yish, who was able to resume, after a four-month hiatus, his job as a manager of customer service in a Shelton company that produces hydraulic equipment for yachts.
Last November he won a spot on the Board of Selectmen, which adds significantly to his work load.
He also makes an effort to run once or twice a week and has even run a few 5K races since receiving the transplant.
Although confidentiality rules prevent him from knowing the name of his donor, he knows that his new heart came from a young woman in the Washington, D.C., area.
Via a transplant coordinator, he has been able to write to the donor family to express his appreciation.
"I think about my donor every day. What an incredible gift," he said
To show his appreciation, he has devoted a lot of time since his surgery to recruiting donors by disseminating information via health fairs and talks to nurses, emergency medical technicians and the general public.
"I want to get the news out to people who haven't thought being a donor yet," he said.
Mr. Yish currently is on the Board of Directors for Donate Life Connecticut, a small group of volunteers dedicated to raising public awareness about the critical need for donors of organs, tissue, marrow, blood and corneas.
Participants in Donate Life Connecticut include the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, the National Kidney Foundation, Yale-New Haven Hospital Transplant Center, the Connecticut Eye Bank and Visual Research Foundation and others.
Since 2003, the month of April has been a special one for Donate Life Connecticut and its regional and national counterparts, Donate Life New England and Donate Life America.
Together with state legislators, mayors and first selectmen, the state Department of Motor Vehicles, organ and tissue donor families, implant recipients and health professions, it strives to educate and raise consciousness by celebrating the generosity of donors and encouraging more people to become donors.
On April 1, Selectman Dave McKane accompanied Mr. Yish to the State Capitol Building where they presented a proclamation by First Selectman Mary Ann Drayton-Rogers in support of National Donate Life Month.
Mr. Yish also had the honor of reading a proclamation at the State Capitol by Gov. M. Jodi Rell issued on behalf of the state in support of the organization's efforts.
As part of the ceremonies, Donate Life Connecticut also honored the winners of its annual High School Poster Contest. This year Katelyn Whitburn of Oxford High School won honorary mention.
Becoming a potential organ donor is easy. Persons can designate their decision on their drivers' licenses when they obtain or renew them, sign a donor card, which they can download on the web or register online with Donate Life New England.
To register online with Donate Life New England, visit www.donantelifene.org.
According to Donate Life Connecticut, one donor has the power to save and enhance the lives of up to 75 people.