Rochester, N.Y. - Amerks Hall of Famer Gates Orlando didn’t ask to be a messenger. But he knows he is one.
Sitting in his room at Strong Memorial Hospital, the man who scored more than 400 goals as a professional hockey player is focused on his new goals. Getting better, and spreading the word about the need for more organ donors.
Orlando says, "I feel like I have to help. This is my way of helping."
On April 4th, doctors at Strong Memorial Hospital removed Orlando’s diseased heart from his chest and replaced it with a total artificial heart. It was a first for the heart transplant team at the University of Rochester Medical Center, and a first in all of upstate New York.
Now, the retired pro-hockey player is, like 30 other patients in the Rochester area, on the waiting list for a donor heart. Add in the local patients waiting for a new kidney, liver or pancreas, and the list tops 900. Gates Orlando hopes his story, of a former world-class athlete now waiting for a heart, will help encourage more people to sign a donor pledge, and to let their loved ones know of their wishes.
"I think the conversation is key,” says Dr. Eugene Storozynsky, a transplant cardiologist who has cared for Orlando since he was diagnosed with a rare heart failure called sarcoidosis. “Making your wishes known to your family members to your loved ones so it is not beholden on them at this tragic time to make this decision."
Artificial hearts are not the permanent solution, but can keep patients alive for many months to bridge the gap between heart failure and a donor organ becoming available.
Looking at the 400 pounds of equipment that powers his artificial heart, Orlando says “I'm hoping in the future people won't have to have those. And will get hearts.”
And he reminds people that a single donor can help many organ and tissue recipients. “Think of the people you're going to help. And you're going to help lots of people for a long time. A 15-year-old boy could help a 16-year-old girl and a 25-year-old mother with burns. There's a lot of ways that 15-year-old boy could help somebody.”
Orlando praises the doctors, nurses and others who have helped give him a chance to return to a normal life. “We have the facility here,” he says. “The team of doctors, surgeons, nurses, are incredibly educated and very good at what they do but they can't do it without the tools. They are not given the tools.”
More information about signing up as a donor is available at www.donorrecovery.org