Transplant recipient Rich DeVos leads call for more organ donations
If Rich DeVos had his way, people wouldn't need to register to donate organs when they die. It'd be the other way around -- they would have to sign up not to donate.
That's because the Amway co-founder is well aware not everyone has the financial resources that allowed him to travel to London 13 years ago for a heart transplant after being turned down by every qualified medical center in the U.S.
DeVos, 84, shared his experience and his passionate advocacy for organ donation Thursday at a Rotary of Grand Rapids lunch featuring a panel of transplant recipients, donors, representatives from Gift of Life Michigan and Ann Arbor-based tissue and donor advocacy group.
"I'm grateful for a lady who said yes, I could have her heart," DeVos said. "You need to sign up (for the donor registry) today and get everybody in your family informed."
The talk was attended by two men who are waiting to receive hearts, Rahn Bentley and Perry Charleston, who was wearing a left ventricular assist device.
Also attending was Blake Forslund, who received a kidney in 2006.
"I sit in my chair sometimes at home and think how lucky I am to have someone else's organ that's keeping me alive," Forslund said.
Mike Lloyd, executive director of Broadway Grand Rapids and former Grand Rapid Press editor, urged the crowd to talk to loved ones about organ donation in case tragedy occurs. Lloyd said he's thankful he and his late wife, Judy, discussed her wish to donate long before she died in 2005 from injuries suffered in a car accident.
"It's a terrible, terrible spot to be in, but the one surety I had, I knew what she wanted," Lloyd said. "Out of this tragedy came purpose. Out of this tragedy came a gift."
Since his 1997 transplant, DeVos has spoken around the country about the issue, and in 2003 testified before a U.S. House subcommittee to back a plan that would offer financial incentives to people who agree to donate organs.
On Thursday, the billionaire businessman shared details of his "unusual" transplant situation in London that led to him receiving a heart from a living donor.
"They had to go and ask her if she'd give up her heart if they'd find her a new heart (and lung) and she said yes," DeVos recalled. "She lived 10 extra years, but her heart still goes on with me."
The transplant was performed by professor Sir Magdi Yacoub and Dr. Asghar Khaghani, who now is Spectrum Health's new heart transplant surgeon. Khaghani also attended Thursday's lunch.
Khaghani, who has performed more than 1,000 heart transplants and more than 5,000 cardiovascular surgeries, said he only permanently arrived in town a few days ago and is delighted to get started.
"We're ready; we're already underway," Khaghani said. He said the goal is to perform 12 transplants in the program's first year and eventually increase to 20 or 25.
DeVos has been a longtime member of the Spectrum Health board.
Khaghani, whom DeVos said is a good friend, will head up Spectrum's new heart transplant program which is named after DeVos and was created, in part, by an undisclosed "major" donation from his foundation. The donation is providing the endowment for Khaghani's salary.
Because of DeVos' continued close connection to Yacoub, he also will periodically come to Grand Rapids to assist the Van Andel Institute with cardiac research.
"It closes the loop," DeVos said. "We have a magnificent medical system in this community. They didn't do me, but I would be grateful to come here and have it done."