A donor’s heart gave Richard Aidem a new lease on life, and provided a mother with the opportunity to hear her son’s heart beat again.
- After a successful transplant, Richard was able to meet his heart donor’s family and thank them in person.
- Richard received his heart transplant to treat heart failure, but heart transplants may also be used to help cure patients born with congenital heart defects.
- Richard continues to advocate for organ donors and their ability to save lives.
[3 MIN READ]
When Richard Aidem meets someone for the first time, the conversation almost always turns to the same subject: his heart transplant.
“A heart transplant is a big thing in life and something very unusual,” Richard says. “People are completely amazed and usually look at me and say, ‘you had a heart transplant?’”
Richard was initially diagnosed with congestive heart failure (CHF) in 2006 when his daughter was in college. Now, more than 13 years later, he is living a full and healthy life thanks to a heart transplant and the expert care he’s received at Providence.
A surprising diagnosis
While traveling to Kentucky for his daughter’s softball tournament in August 2006, Richard started feeling ill. He chalked it up to the Kentucky summer heat and figured he’d feel better once the temperatures cooled down.
But one night in the hotel, Richard woke up his wife — he couldn’t breathe.
The family headed to a nearby regional hospital where doctors treated Richard and ran several breathing tests. Eventually, they broke the news to Richard that he had CHF.
“At first, the doctors didn’t know if I was going to make it or not,” Richard says. “It was all pretty shocking because I had never had a heart issue in my life.”
A perfectly timed transplant
While in Kentucky, doctors treated Richard’s CHF with medicine, but he would need a heart transplant to survive long-term. Richard couldn’t wrap his head around the procedure.
“I still thought I was doomed,” he says.
Back near his home in California, Richard continued to receive heart failure treatment at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center. Eventually, a donor heart was ready for Richard and he underwent the transplant.
The timing of the transplant was significant — Richard’s daughter was getting married in March 2007 and the transplant was scheduled just three months before the wedding date. For heart transplant patients, those first three months after the operation are spent avoiding infection as much as possible, which means staying out of crowded spaces and wearing a face mask.
Thanks to the serendipitous timing, Richard was able to walk down the aisle with his daughter and dance at the reception, all without a face mask.
An emotional meeting
Once his transplant was complete, Richard wrote a letter to his heart donor’s family thanking them for their gift of life and to share his condolences for their loss.
After reading Richard’s letter on Thanksgiving, the donor’s mother decided she wanted to meet Richard. So, arrangements were made for the family and Richard to gather in downtown Los Angeles.
“The donor’s mom came up to me, gave me a hug and put her head on my chest,” Richard says. “She listened to my heart — her son’s heart.”
The son, who was only 20, had committed suicide after suffering from depression and bullying. Although cut short, his life was able to bring new life to six patients (including Richard) thanks to organ donation.
“He’s our hero,” says Richard’s wife, Pat.
Raising awareness for heart transplants
Years after his transplant, Richard continues to receive expert care at both Providence Holy Cross Medical Center and Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center. Although the transplant is in his past, he remains a strong advocate for organ donors and their ability to save lives.
“I want to spread the word about donors and how important they are,” Richard says.
Like Richard, most people undergo a heart transplant because they have been diagnosed with heart failure. However, heart transplants are also used to help cure congenital heart defects, or a heart disorder that someone is born with.
National Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week (February 7-14) aims to raise awareness about congenital heart defects and the heart transplants used to help people with this disorder.
Find a doctor
If you’re in need of expert heart care, Providence’s award-winning heart and vascular specialists provide renowned cardiovascular treatment. You can find a Providence doctor using our provider directory. Or, you can search for a primary care doctor in your area.
After losing her son to suicide, a mother gets to hear her child’s heart beat again. #organdonation #giftoflife @psjh
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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