February is the month of love, so it only makes sense that it also serves as the national recognition period for the organ in which we all associate love; the heart. American Heart Month was officially declared on December 30, 1963 by President Lyndon B. Johnson to raise awareness about diseases of the heart and cardiovascular system. At the time of LBJ’s presidency, Heart disease was the number one killer of Americans. Even though that tune still rings true today, we have taken massive strides to fight this killer. Technology, treatments, medicine, and diagnosis methods have improved ten-fold. We have also put a spotlight on the importance of diet, exercise, and fighting against smoking. In 1924, the American Heart Association began with a team of physicians and social workers to research the disease. As of today, thousands of Americans are on the waiting list for a new heart. This year marks the 51st Anniversary of the monthly observance and the level of dedication is still the same.
Because it is American Heart Month, it brings attention to those in need of a new heart. Last year alone, there were over 2,400 heart transplants. As of today, there are nearly 4,000 people on the transplant list. While we know that the heart has to be strong in order to live, ambition, drive, and a little bit of faith is what kept Oscar Sainz waking up every morning.
Oscar was living a life that most of us would: steady job, fishing, hanging out with family, and watching his son play baseball. He was able to enjoy living his life until early 2009, when every moment in life was filled with pain. Diagnosed with congestive heart failure in 2000, he was able to take medication to keep the disease at bay. That seemed to work for awhile, but eight years later everything changed. Simple things like walking across the street and sleeping were a struggle because of the pain, and difficulty breathing.
His health declined to the point where a heart transplant become necessary for improving his quality of life. With the decision to a have a mechanical heart device implanted as a “bridge to transplant”, he was able to regain his strength until he was placed on the National Transplant Waiting List. During this time, he was closely supported by his family and friends, and even moved to Spokane to be closer to his transplant center, Sacred Heart Medical Center.
While out getting a haircut, Oscar received the call of a lifetime. He was ready for his life to change for the better, but his mother was nervous. It was an eight month wait, but it was now coming to an end.
“I called my oldest son first and told him to wait until it was a sure thing. I tried to stay calm and focused but inside I was numb. I prayed that this would be the day and it was,” said Sainz.
Oscar was out of the hospital in a week with a steady improvement in his health. He became physically and mentally stronger through the experience and is now enjoying his life, spending time with his granddaughters and spreading the news about organ donation.
This weekend not only marks a holiday of the heart with Valentine’s Day, but also celebrates National Donor day, a time to recognize the impact that organ, eye and tissue donors have on so many lives across the nation. This weekend, as you share gifts and spend time with your loved ones, take a moment to talk about your donation decision and remember those who have provided so many second chances by giving the gift of life. Why not make the decision to become someone’s valentine by giving them the greatest gift of all: the gift of life!