Adam Burkhart celebrates 10 years with new heart
By Holly Richards | Zanesville Times Recorder
ZANESVILLE -- A set of wheels brings twinkles to the eyes of many teenagers on their birthdays, but Adam Burkhart had a different kind of wish -- a heart.
After being hospitalized for several months after a continued weakening of his heart, then-17-year-old Burkhart received the best news and present he could ever dream of. Six days before his 18th birthday, he underwent a much-needed heart transplant.
"It was the greatest birthday gift," he said.
His life changed for the better on Sept. 14, 2000. It's been 10 years since that monumental day, and Burkhart is celebrating the anniversary by living his life to the fullest.
"Every day is a gift, and everything is great," he said. "In March I got engaged to my fiancée, Kali, and we're getting married Oct. 23."
It's been a long, painful road to get Burkhart to where he is now.
Born in 1982, Burkhart was diagnosed with familial cardiomyopathy in 1988. The disease runs on his mother's side; she is one of 13 children; 11 still are living, but two have died because of the disease, Burkhart said.
Doctors at Children's Hospital in Columbus told Burkhart's family he'd inevitably need a heart transplant, but not down the road until his 30s. Then things took a turn for the worse when he was playing indoor soccer at age 17.
"I couldn't run and thought it was my asthma," he said. "I took my asthma medicine and did a breathing treatment, but it wasn't working. Then I was taken to the ER, where I was told I was in heart failure. I was on medicines then went to Children's Hospital. I was in and out of there from January to March then was referred to a doctor at OSU Medical Center."
Within days of getting to OSU's hospital, Burkhart was placed on a waiting list for a heart transplant. The hospital became his home for the next six months.
"Of the whole ordeal, waiting in the hospital was the worst for me, but I know it was 10 times as hard for my family," he said. "Even the pain afterwards was nothing compared to the waiting, not being able to see your own house, drive, and I missed my junior prom."
After playing the waiting game for what seemed like an eternity, Burkhart's wish finally came true.
"On Sept. 14, 2000, I got a call at 3 a.m. that there was a heart for me. I can remember it like it was yesterday," he said. "After almost seven months I became good friends with the staff and physicians. I would help answer phones at night. That night I was getting tired and headed back to my room to watch TV. A little while later one of the nurses came in and said, 'Are you ready?' I called my parents, but they'd found out before me; they were already in the car on their way to Columbus. Everybody was there. It was scary but awesome, and I knew it was the only way I'd get to come home."
Burkhart underwent the transplant surgery later in the morning, his birthday fell on Sept. 20 and he was home by Sept. 21.
"Finally getting home was amazing, and so was seeing all the support Zanesville was giving me," he said. "I can remember the yellow ribbons on Dresden Road, and all the billboards and signs. I had no idea how big an impact my story had on the community."
In the past 10 years, Burkhart met his fiancée, bought a house in Zanesville and works full-time in construction for Professional Plumbing Services Inc. In September he also had the chance to do something slightly scary but fulfilling -- meet his donor family.
"It was probably the most special, exciting, nervous situation I've been in since the transplant," he said. "It was amazing to finally meet the people who saved my life. It was nerve-racking, but they were extremely nice people; they're friends for life."
Looking back on the past decade, Burkhart feels nothing but appreciation for being alive and well today.
"I want to thank everybody for all the thoughts and prayers; keep them coming," he said. "Organ donation works; talk with your family, express your wishes, put it on your license and do your research. It's been 10 years, and a lot of people are not lucky to have 10 years after a transplant. Knowing that 18 people die every day waiting for a transplant, I know I'm extremely lucky to not be one of them."
"In Ohio 50 percent of people are registered donors," added Rachel Lewis, media relations/community outreach coordinator with Lifeline of Ohio. "In our area of central/southeast Ohio it's about 57 percent. The numbers continue to grow, which excites us, but there's still a big gap and a huge need."
Compared to 10 years ago, current transplant statistics have increased. Lewis said 73,000 patients were listed on the U.S. transplant waiting list in 2000; that has increased to 108,641 for 2010. The number of Ohioans waiting for transplants totals 3,200 for 2010, up from the 2,300 in 2000. Even though the 18 daily waiting deaths is a slight increase from 16 in 2000, 28,462 transplants were performed in 2009 in the U.S. compared to fewer than 22,000 in 1999. This only bolsters the case for organ donation.
"Stories like Adam's brings home the fact that donations help in every community," Lewis said. "He's living life to the fullest, and I hope people will be inspired by his story and donate."