Fight continues for heart-transplant patient Tony O'Connor
Tony O'Connor has had a rough road to recovery since he underwent a heart transplant in March.
O'Connor, of Manchester Township -- who moved from Ireland to York County about six years ago to be the general manager of the former Harp and Fiddle Restaurant in York -- needed the transplant because cardiomyopathy, a heart disease that killed his father and plagues his older brother, destroyed his heart.
Over the last six months, medications used to help his body accept the new heart have caused him to suffer numerous side effects, including visual impairment, significant weight gain, depression and brittle bones. He recently broke a rib while he was asleep.
But O'Connor is motivated to get his life back, said Dodie Froutz, a registered nurse who works in York Hospital's cardiac rehabilitation program.
On Wednesday, Froutz monitored O'Connor's heart rate, rhythm and blood pressure while he exercised.
"He wants to do it, which is good both mentally and physically for him," Froutz said of O'Connor's willpower to recuperate.
"I think he's doing incredibly well considering all of the complications he's had," she said. "He's done a lot of work."
But O'Connor's recovery comes at a high emotional, physical and financial cost.
To help him pay for medical expenses, Nicole Pauling and others from Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York, where O'Connor is a member, are hosting a fundraiser.
Pauling and her business partner Katie Smock, owners of Dallastown-based Atomic Bounce, will set up bounce houses and help with other activities at the event.
"It is about helping someone who can't make it on his own," Pauling said. "We are a community of people and our goal should be to support each other and to help each other when there is a need."
In the past, O'Connor helped start a drug and alcohol outreach program at the church, Pauling said.
"He is a man who loves life," she said. "I just want to see him have the chance to enjoy itagain."
Pauling's friend Jason Horst of Manheim, Lancaster County, will volunteer his time and talent as a juggler at the fundraiser.
"I don't know Tony personally," he said. "But Nicole has been a good friend to me so I'll be glad to help her and her friend."
O'Connor said he's touched that so many people, including strangers, want to help him recover from the transplant.
"I cannot stress enough how much love I have felt," O'Connor said. "I am blown away by the kindness of people."
That level of generosity is contagious, O'Connor said.
Recently, O'Connor talked publicly for the first time, about his transplant experience and the importance of organ donors, to a group of local high school kids.
After the speaking engagement, one of the students e-mailed him to say the talk inspired her to register to become an organ donor.
"I am so happy . . . I found my calling in life," O'Connor said. "I want to go on and I want to help others."
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York, 925 S. George St. in York, will host a fundraiser for congregant Tony O'Connor from noon to 3:30 p.m. Oct. 31.
The event will include food, entertainment, bounce houses and face painting for kids.
Volunteers are needed to help at the event.
To donate or learn more, call 845-8212 or visit www.uucy.org or www.irishheartfest.com.
To view O'Connor's video diary of his life before and after his heart transplant, visit "mybigheart2010" on YouTube.