Barbara Fudge has spent her life helping others and asking nothing in return. For nearly 20 years she has served as a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician in her small Chemung County community. She is a longtime American Red Cross disaster response volunteer, who rushed to New York City on Sept. 11, 2001 when the Twin Towers fell.
But earlier this year the tables were turned and Fudge had to rely on others to survive. She was in desperate need of the ultimate gift – a new heart.
“When I was waiting, it occurred to me that as a first responder, I was helping save others and now I’m waiting for somebody to help save me,” said Fudge, 68, who lives north of Elmira.
On Dec. 11, her prayers were answered at UR Medicine’s Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester.
“When they told me they had a good heart for me, I was speechless. What can you say when someone gives you a Christmas gift like that,” Fudge asked.
UR Medicine heart transplant surgeon Juan Lehoux, M.D., performed the transplant in a four-hour surgery at Strong Memorial, which offers Upstate New York’s only comprehensive heart failure and transplant program.
“We are always proud to see patients thrive after a heart transplant and we are working to help her return home to her family and routine,” said transplant cardiologist Himabindu Vidula, M.D., M.S. Specialists in the Program in Heart Failure and Transplantation will closely monitor Fudge’s recovery and heart function for the rest of her life.
“I am so grateful to the donor, and their generous family, for caring enough to share their heart,” said Fudge, who with her husband, Clint, has two grown children.
A failing heart
Fudge is a dedicated community servant who joined the Erin Volunteer Fire Department with her daughter 19 years ago. In addition to firefighting, Fudge pursued training as an emergency medical technician. She has served an assistant fire chief and Red Cross volunteer, ready to jump into action when disaster strikes. Fifteen years ago, Fudge traveled to New York City to care for people injured when the World Trade Center collapsed.
She was busy; busier than most her age when she felt dizzy and faint one afternoon in February 2015. Fudge sought care at Arnot-Ogden Medical Center and doctors diagnosed atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart rhythm.
Over the next year, she was prescribed a variety of medications to manage her failing heart, but symptoms of shortness of breath and dizziness kept returning. In January, UR Medicine electrophysiologist David Huang, M.D., placed an implantable cardioverter defibrillator in her chest to help maintain a steady heart rhythm.
A few months ago, she was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, an enlarged and weakened heart unable to pump enough blood through her body. It was the same ailment that caused the deaths of her brother and sister long ago, leading her care team to believe it’s a hereditary condition.
Optimistic about the future and returning to her routine, Fudge knows it will be a slow process.
“She has to recover and we are supportive of her being active again,” said Vidula, her transplant cardiologist. “She’s given a lot to her community and we hope that she spends time with her family and allows members of her community to take care of her as well.”
Season of giving
Organ transplantation success stories like Fudge’s are not possible without the generosity of organ donors.
New York has poor participation in organ donation, ranking last among the 50 states. As a result, residents can wait months or years for a match.
According to the Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network, the organ procurement organization affiliated with the University of Rochester Medical Center and SUNY Upstate Medical University, there are 10,000 people in the state waiting for organ transplants, including about 450 people on waiting lists for a new heart, liver, kidney or pancreas transplant at Strong Memorial Hospital.
FLDRN coordinates organ donation in 20 counties with a population of 2.4 million, serving 38 hospitals in the Finger Lakes region, central and northern New York. You can register as an organ donor online at passlifeon.org or at the Department of Health, Department of Motor Vehicles, or the Board of Elections.