When Central Square father Donald Tuffley and his family attend his daughter’s commencement ceremony on Friday, June 23, it will be a dream come true. It’s an important moment he feared he would miss, if not for the generosity of a stranger who provided the “gift of life.”
His heart problems began after chemotherapy treatment for Ewing sarcoma, a bone cancer, as a teenager. The medication caused heart damage, which reared its ugly head in 2003. Cardiologists at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse managed his care until his heart began to fail and he sought care from UR Medicine Advanced Heart Failure Program experts. In 2012 he received a heart pump, a left ventricular assist device, which supported his heart function until he was hospitalized in need of the transplant surgery.
While waiting at Strong Memorial, days turned into weeks and then months, and he yearned to be home with his family. Through it all, Tuffley kept an eye on the calendar because June 23 was his goal – he wanted to be home by then and to see his daughter, Abigail, graduate from Paul V. Moore High School.
“When I came to the hospital, I set the goal of being home by then. It’s one of those moments that you just can’t miss, no matter what,” said Tuffley, a father of three who became a grandfather while hospitalized.
On March 29, after an eight-month wait, he was that much closer to his wish coming true.
“When they woke me up, they told me not to eat or drink,” Tuffley recalls. “I’d been there long enough to know something was different and I told my wife that I think they’re going to offer me a heart.”
UR Medicine transplant cardiologist Leway Chen, M.D., M.P.H., shared the news that a match was indeed available and within a few hours, heart transplant surgeon Igor Gosev, M.D., began the life-saving surgery. Strong Memorial Hospital offers Upstate New York’s only comprehensive heart failure and transplant program.
“It is gratifying to see people like Mr. Tuffley thrive after transplant and we are optimistic that his recovery will continue and he enjoys a great quality of life,” said Chen, medical director of the UR Medicine Heart and Vascular Advanced Heart Failure Program.
Tuffley returned home in mid-April, to a great welcome from his family and friends. It was the first time he was able to hold his grandchild born in January.
Organ transplantation success stories 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.