Erik: Making history — twice
When he was 24, a virus attacked Erik heart, decimating the muscle and sending a completely healthy young man into sudden heart failure.
At the time, in late 1994, only a few options existed for sustaining patients through such a crisis, and helping them live long enough for a heart transplant. Luckily, Erik was transferred to one of the few places that offered such an option: U-M.
For 34 days, a world record at the time, a machine took over for both sides of his heart, pumping blood to his lungs and then to his body. He and his medical team fought off his pneumonia, and coped with his allergy to a key blood-thinning drug.
Finally, in January 1995, a donor heart became available — and Erik got another shot at life.
For twelve years, that heart allowed him to pursue a successful career in real estate development. He married and had two children. He gave talks about the importance of organ donation. And like any transplant recipient, he had regular checkups with his U-M cardiologist.
It was during one of those checkups this past January that his doctors noticed something amiss. The blood vessels of his transplanted heart had narrowed dangerously — a condition called vasculopathy that is a common long-term complication of heart transplants. Slowly, the blood supply to the heart was being shut off, and soon it would stop.
Although he didn’t yet feel sick, Erik’s only hope was another transplant. He was admitted to the hospital immediately.
Over the next two months, he turned his hospital room into a satellite office, conducting business by phone and e-mail — and keeping in touch with his children every morning and evening via web camera. All the while, his heart got weaker.
Then, in mid-March, the call came. A heart had become available. Erik was about to make history once again: Less than 5 percent of heart transplant recipients receive a second donor heart when their first one begins to fail.
He was walking on the second day after surgery, and climbing stairs the fourth. He left the hospital a few weeks later — with another chance at life.