April Is National
Donate Life Month
By The Venice-Ocala Heart Institute
It could happen to anyone; a sudden accident
permanently damages your organ’s function or an unexpected illness
occurs and you become number 106, 601 on the organ donor
waiting list. But what if this damage could have been prevented?
Some chronic diseases may be preventable, but they still cause more
than half of all deaths in the United States each year.
The risk of cancer or chronic health conditions may
decrease with a healthy diet. “Get health problems taken care of
right away, have surgery if you need to, but use transplants as a
last resort,” says Mateo Dayo, M.D. of the Venice-Ocala Heart
Institute in Venice, Fla.
Raymond Hellthaler, Jr. had a leaking valve – stage
four mitral valve leak to be exact, and congestive heart failure
(the heart is unable to adequately pump blood throughout the body
and/or unable to prevent blood from “backing-up” into the lungs; the
mitral valve is the “inflow valve” for the left side of the heart –
allowing blood to flow from the left atrium to the main pumping
chamber, closing to prevent blood from backing up into the lungs).
“Patients in elderly ages (late 70s and beyond) with
heart function may benefit from heart surgery as they are unlikely
to qualify for heart transplants given their advanced age and
associated medical problems,” says Jonathan Fong, M.D.
of the Venice-Ocala
Hellthaler’s family was deeply concerned. “He was not
in good shape,” said wife, Barbara Hellthaler. “We did not have a
long period of time to decide if we should undergo an operation.” An
operation that could save his life, avoiding becoming 106,601 on a
transplant waiting list. “It took us 20 minutes after we got home to
decide we were going through with it,” she said.
Three bypasses, a mitral valve repair and an Ex-Maze
procedure later, Raymond Hellthaler, Jr. is alive and well – having
avoided the need for a heart transplant or more. (Electrical
impulses cause the heart to contract. In atrial fibrillation the
beat is irregular, blood can pool in the atria, leading to blood
clots and potentially causing a stroke. The Ex-Maze procedure offers
the possibility of converting the abnormal atrial fibrillation
rhythm back to a normal rhythm). “We didn’t know how bad it was
until Dr. Fong did some tests to prove the valve was leaking badly
and the heart was not beating correctly,” said Barbara Hellthaler.
“Dr. Fong saved his life. He is a wonderful, wonderful man,” she
“This was a prime example of embarking on an alternate
solution (or operation) to receiving a transplant,” said Dr. Dayo.
“Raymond’s surgery was a complete success – having
kept his own organs and persevering through what could have been
dire results,” said Dr. Fong. “Raymond
has gone from being severely debilitated even in simple activities
to having a stronger heart function as measured not only by cardiac
ultrasound but also by his ability to return to a significantly more
active lifestyle,” he said.
eating habits, lack of exercise, use of tobacco products and
over-consumption of alcohol are all directly linked to instances of
chronic health conditions. “Heart disease is the leading cause of
death in both men and women. But when you look at those four
unhealthy habits, it becomes the most preventable chronic
condition.” Like Dr. Dayo and Dr. Fong, all doctors are urging their
patients to reconsider unhealthy lifestyles and care for the organs
that they have had since birth.
“The human heart beats about 2.5 billion times in the
average person’s lifetime. But for organ donors whose lives are cut
short, these powerful organs have the potential to continue beating
for another person,” said Dr. Dayo. Even though advancements in
medical procedures allow for this life-saving operation, prevention
should be the first priority for doctors and patients alike.
Doctors, especially cardiac-thoracic surgeons, urge the community to
spread awareness this month – 1) to spread hope in saving others
lives when one is cut too short and 2) to get your health checked to
avoid risk of being on the transplant list.
Counting the beats:
“In cases involving
thoracic transplants, the recipient patient must respond with
urgency, as heart and lungs can only survive outside of the body for
about five hours,” says Dr. Dayo.
“We want people to realize how much hope donation provides
and how quickly one must respond.”
“It is significant to recognize that taking
precautions for your health can significantly reduce the number of
people on the transplant list and help save your own life as well.
Transplant surgery should be a last option,” said Dr. Fong.
donor can save more than 50 people on the growing waiting list
for the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS).
As of March
2010, there are 106,600 waiting list candidates.
As of March
2010, there are 22,338 patients needing thoracic transplants
(i.e. lungs, heart, liver)
Necessary Steps for an Organ Transplant:
physician decides that the individual is in organ failure, and
the patient is referred to a transplant center.
testing; if the individual is still a candidate, they are added
to the list.
follow up and be prepared for their donation at any time.
Heart Institute was started in July 2003. The foundation of the
institute is simple: to care for families as they would for their
own. The physicians have worked in complete cooperation with the
Venice Regional Medical Center to build a program that has provided
the highest quality of care – recognized as one to the Top 100
cardiac surgery programs in the nation. The goal of the Venice-Ocala
Heart Institute is to draw upon the expertise of two specialties –
cardiovascular surgery and cardiovascular anesthesia to deliver the
best quality of cardiothoracic and vascular care to the heart, lungs
and vascular needs of the patient. The Venice-Ocala Heart Institute
is comprised of Cardiac, Thoracic and Vascular Surgeons and
Cardiovascular Anesthesiologists working together to provide
superior care for cardiac, thoracic and vascular patients. The
Venice-Ocala Heart Institute is located at 706 The Rialto in Venice,
Florida. For more information, contact the Venice-Ocala Heart
Institute at 941-484-8004 or visit them online at
www.ocalaheart.com. Additional resources gathered
from: the United Network for Organ Sharing, Mayo Clinic, and
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