On Your Health

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A Heartwarming Heart Story

Valentine’s Day is when many of us celebrate love. But for one family, the holiday brings thoughts of not just love, but gratitude and joy coupled with sadness for another’s loss. For the Amaral family, a heart on Valentine's Day will forever be much more than a symbol.

Two years ago, Paul was on the waiting list for a new heart. He had battled heart issues since 2010 and had a series of heart pumping devices installed, but eventually he had to be placed on the heart transplant recipient waiting list.

His medical team from INTEGRIS Advanced Cardiac Care in Oklahoma City hosted a Valentine’s Day painting party on Feb. 14, 2017. Paul and his family created two heart-covered paintings they hoped would bring them luck. Two days later, they got the call. Paul would receive a special gift from a donor — a donor heart was available.

Paul was in surgery for 14 hours getting an emergency heart transplant at the Nazhi Zuhdi Transplant Institute at INTEGRIS Baptist Medical Center. Two months later, Paul returned home to an array of heart decorations. Says his wife Stephanie, "I put out a big yard sign that read, 'Glad you had a change of heart.'"

These days, Paul’s new heart is helping him experience life in new ways. He’s now got the breath to spend time playing outdoors with his daughter, and the family can go on vacations since he’s no longer attached to his heart machine.

"It’s been two years now, and he’s healthy and can do regular things again," says Stephanie. "He’s fishing again. He went swimming with our daughter for the first time. He was able to get in the water and baptize our daughter at church." She continues, "We just love it that he’s able to do normal things again."

The Amaral family is eternally grateful to the organ donor. "It’s hard to know what to say to the family that lost a loved one who made our continued life possible. That loving heart now lives in Paul," Stephanie says.

In Oklahoma, it’s quick, easy and free to sign up to become an organ donor. Currently, 61 percent of Oklahomans are registered to be a donor, but the need is always greater. Right now, there are 26 Oklahomans waiting for a heart.

Did you know that one organ donor can save eight lives? For every donor, there’s the opportunity to give life to a heart recipient, two lung recipients, two kidney recipients, a liver recipient and a pancreas recipient as well as multiple potential recipients for tissue and eyes.

LifeShare Transplant Donor Services of Oklahoma, a nonprofit, federally-designated organ procurement organization, covers all the fees associated with testing, procedures and evaluations relating to organ, eye or tissue donation in the state. You can register at the DMV or online at LifeShare’s registry portal.

Please consider giving the gift of life by registering to become a lifesaving organ donor today. Says Paul’s wife Stephanie, "I hope more people will check that little organ donor box on their driver’s license. You don’t need those parts anymore when you die — but someone does." 

Thanks to Edmond Outlook's Amy Dee Stephens for her original reporting on this story and the featured photograph in the story.