Oak Lawn man doesn't take gift of life for granted

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

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                                                                 Photo by Dermot Connolly

Robert Reyes, a heart transplant recipient from Oak Lawn, and Dr. Ambar Andrade, a cardiologist, applaud during a ceremony held last Thursday at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn to honor organ donors and recipients.


Oak Lawn resident Robert Reyes, who received his new heart a year ago at Advocate Christ Medical Center, expressed appreciation for his new lease on life during an event honoring tissue and organ donors and recipients at the Oak Lawn hospital last Thursday.

April is National Donate Life Month, and the ceremony, held in conjunction with Advocate Children’s Hospital, Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network and Eversight Illinois, included the dedication of a garden of 1,330 pinwheels on the medical center campus at 4400 W. 95th St. to recognize all of the organ donors and recipients who came through the hospital over the last decade. As officials explained, the eight arms on the pinwheels represent the number of people whose lives can be saved by each organ donor.

“I received my new heart on April 11, 2017. To be honest with you, it has been a wonderful journey that would have been impossible without the care I received here,” said Reyes, 58, who was with his wife, Clarice.

Reyes said he had been struggling with advanced heart disease for many years and received a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) on Oct. 31, 2016. He had just come home from a LVAD therapy session when he got the call that a heart became available.

“Without my new heart, my outlook was grim. I sit up and am thankful every morning. I can only say thank you to you for all that you did,” said Reyes.

Other speakers included Dr. Ambar Andrade, an advanced heart failure cardiologist, and Cindy Cook, whose son, Jonathan, was a pediatric tissue donor.

Andrade, who was on the team who transplanted Reyes’ heart, said that 148 heart transplants have been done at Christ since the program began in 2007, making it one of the eight top U.S. hospitals for heart transplants. She noted that 84 kidney transplants have been done since 2010, and 24 lung transplants, which the hospital began doing more recently.

A representative of Eversight, a non-profit organization that helps restore vision and prevent blindness, said that 59 cornea donors also came from Christ within the past year.

“There is no pill I can prescribe to offer a cure when a transplant is needed,” Andrade said, expressing thanks to the families who agree to donate their loved ones’ organs. “I ask you to honor the lives of the organ recipients and the lives of the donors.”

Cook, a Bridgeview native now living in Joliet, said Jonathan would have been 22 this month. But he died at age 10 from complications of a rare genetic disorder called Trisomy 13.

She said he was cared for at Advocate Children’s Hospital, and when he died there, his donated heart valves and other tissues saved multiple lives.

“Jonathan loved life. He had a laugh that was contagious. Jonathan became very sick when he turned 10, and our team of doctors took us into a room and talked to us about the possibility of organ donation. We hesitated at first, but through our grief and despair, we tried to help others,” said Cook.

“It’s amazing that for someone whose condition we were told was incompatible with life, he gave life,” she added.

According to Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network, every 10 minutes someone joins the national transplant waiting list and an average of 22 people die every day waiting for an organ donation.

“We are proud of the relationship we have with the Gift of Hope. We have an active heart, lung and kidney transplant center. We have had the largest number of donors within the Chicago area for the last 15 years,” said Rich Heim, president of Advocate Christ Medical Center.

He noted that Christ is also ranked in the top eight hospitals nationwide for patient outcomes following transplants.

“Christ is better than anyone at making that transition (following a death) to enable a family to make the decision about organ donation,” said Karen Smith, of Gift of Hope.