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Dean's Story

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HEART TRANSPLANT

Living on Borrowed Time from Day One

Dean was only 5 hours old when he underwent his first heart surgery. He had a rare birth defect known as transposition of the great arteries. This means the large vessels that carry blood from the heart aren’t connected properly.

Heart transplant patient, Dean

Dean, Temple Health heart transplant patient

Dean endured a series of surgical procedures over his first 3 years, and by the time he reached his mid-20s, he was the oldest-known person to have survived them.

Dean defied the odds until 2012, when, at age 46, he went into congestive heart failure. As his condition deteriorated, he was told death was imminent. His cardiologist recommended he be evaluated for a heart transplant at Temple. 

Finding Hope

After a full work-up, Temple’s Advanced Heart Failure team recognized that Dean needed immediate help. Soon after, Temple cardiovascular surgeon Dr. Kenji Minakata implanted a ventricular assist device (VAD) in Dean. This mechanical device helps the heart pump and acts as a “bridge to transplant” for patients who are extremely sick. 

 “It was such a life-changer,” Dean says. “Two days after the surgery, I was walking. It was a totally different world taking my first truly deep breath in at least 3 years. I felt like I could run. In fact, when I came home from the hospital a couple weeks later, I half-jogged up to my brother’s second-floor apartment. He couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it, either.”

The Start of a New Life

On April 10, 2017, 15 months after the VAD surgery, Dean received his lifesaving new heart. Momentous as both procedures were for him, he also credits the days leading up to and immediately after them with restoring his life.

I love my doctors, but the nursing staff was unbelievable. They paid attention to me. I wasn’t just a patient to them; I was a person.

- Dean

“It was a great experience overall, which sounds like a strange thing to say after two major surgeries and more than 100 days in the hospital over 15 months, but it was,” Dean says. “I love my doctors, but the nursing staff was unbelievable. They paid attention to me. I wasn’t just a patient to them; I was a person.

“The VAD and nurse coordinators were constantly on me, in a good way, making sure I understood the gravity of my condition and what was going on with my treatment,” he says. “There was never any miscommunication. And they were there to help me schedule everything.”

A New Appreciation for Everything

“Before the transplant, I couldn’t really feel my feet, my circulation was that bad,” Dean says. “So, when I stubbed my toe, it was almost like a new sensation.”

Since his heart transplant, Dean finds himself appreciating life’s nuances. Because, for so long, he was just surviving. He didn’t have the energy to cook, a hobby of his, let alone see his beloved Phillies in person with his brother. And it bothered him that he couldn’t be more available to his sister and her two daughters.

Temple patient, Dean, with his family

Dean with his sister and her 2 daughters

Today, he is grateful for almost every moment of life no matter how simple. Things like talking for more than short spurts, or walking and talking at the same time.

“I went fishing! I can’t remember the last time I went fishing, maybe 7 or 8 years ago,” Dean says. “More than anything, though, it’s knowing that I’m alive, that I’m here for the family and friends that have always been there for me. The sensation of being alive is totally different now. I’m more emotional. It’s overwhelming sometimes.”

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