UW News

October 14, 2010

Giving back after a gift of life

UW Medicine patient Turner Prewitt talks about his “second life” following a heart transplant:

I was given the “gift of life,” a new heart on Aug. 3, 2008, at UW Medical Center. UWMC is the regional transplant center for Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. Over 500 heart,1500 liver, 1,600 kidney and 500 lung transplants have been performed here since inception of the programs.

My donor, Joseph Galinat, died in Montana. Through the generosity of Joseph and his family, and at the time of their greatest loss and sorrow, my 15-month wait for a heart transplant came to an end. I had been sick with a rare auto-immune disease called sarcoidosis for 38 months.

After experiencing symptoms at tennis practice, my primary care doctor, Dr. Gordon Fall, determined that I had an enlarged heart. I am very grateful for this initial diagnosis. He then referred me to Dr. Jeffrey Wescott. My arthymias required further tests, medications and a pacemaker.

I ended up at UWMC on a Friday night before the Memorial Day weekend with another bad arthymia, ventricle tachycardia, which is very dangerous.

UW Medicine’s Dr. Wayne Levy stayed late that night to complete tests and explain to my family the road ahead. I had a defibrillator implanted in my chest and began the journey to my heart transplant. Like most patients on the waiting list, I could have died at any time. So, 15 months on the wait list was very difficult, especially as I got weaker and weaker.

I spent 13 months homebound with an infusion pump feeding my heart with a special drug 24/7 to keep me alive. It was difficult not to get depressed during this time. I lived by Proverbs 17:22, “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries the bones.”

I had much support from family, church,UW fraternity Phi Kappa Sigma and friends. They even helped to take me to weekly appointments at UWMC. My prayers were answered by a phone call at 1:09 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 3, 2008.

My successful heart transplant was performed by UW Medicine’s Dr. Edward Verrier, and my second life began.

This year on the exact two-year anniversary of my heart transplant, I was blessed with the opportunity to be in Madison, Wisconsin to compete at the 20th U.S. Transplant Games. Sponsored by the National Kidney Foundation, 1,200 transplant athletes gathered to honor our donors and their families by competing in 13 sports, celebrating with what I call the “gift in action.”

I was fortunate and healthy enough to return to playing tennis after a five year hiatus and won a silver medal in mens’ doubles with my tennis partner Joseph Waller. Joseph had received his liver transplant from his own sister. All the other athletes, my teammates, my donor family and my family were thrilled.

I am now able to give back by being a member of the UWMC Patient Advisory Council on two intensive care units. I also volunteer every Saturday as a patient/family liaison on the cardiac intensive care unit.

As a volunteer, it feels good to have the opportunity to share my knowledge and experience with those patients going through what I did. Lastly, I want to thank all the transplant nurses, doctors and staff for all that they do.

Please consider ending the wait for others needing a transplant by registering as an organ, tissue and eye donor. Visit: www.donatelife.com. You could save a life.