Rochester, N.Y. -- Gates Orlando says everything happens for a reason. So he figures there's got to be a reason he has gone from Olympian and elite professional hockey player to a man living on an artificial heart.
It's given this once-prolific goal scorer some new and more important goals.
"I feel like I have to help. This is my way of helping," he said.
Orlando didn't ask to be a messenger, but he knows he is one now.
On April 4th, his diseased heart had to be removed from his chest, and with no donor heart available, Orlando became the first upstate New York patient to receive a total artificial heart.
“I'm hoping in the future people won't have to have those and will get hearts,” he said.
And that's the message: there is a shortage of donated organs, in part because people don't realize the difference they can make. One donor can improve, even save, multiple lives.
“Think of the people you're going to help. And you're going to help lots of people for a long time,” Orlando said. “A 15-year-old boy could help a 16-year-old girl; a 25 year old mother with burns ... There's a lot of ways that 15-year-old boy could help somebody.”
Orlando remains close to hockey as a scout for the New Jersey Devils.
It wasn't all that long ago this 49-year-old was a player; he helped the Amerks win the Calder Cup, enjoyed a successful career in Europe, and played on two Olympic teams.
But in post-game interviews, Orlando always gave more credit than he took.
And he hasn't changed. He insists this story is not about him, but about convincing people to register as organ donors and let their wishes be known.
Dr. Eugene Storozynsky agrees.
"I think the conversation is key. [Make] 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,” he said.
Dr. Storozynsky is part of the heart transplant team at Strong Memorial Hospital, one of just 30 around the country to offer this life-saving artificial heart as an option.
Orlando said, "We have the facility here ... The team of doctors surgeons nurses incredibly educated very good at what they do they can't do it without the tools. They are not given the tools."
Gates Orlando is on the list to receive a donor heart; the artificial heart can keep him alive until then. His doctor says Gates is probably weeks to months away from being ready for transplant.
He is taking daily walks, building strength, and hoping for a day when the wait for life-saving transplants won't be so long.
“Things happen for a reason. You’ve known me for a long time. I'm not a self-serving type of guy. I just want to help out anyway I can. To see a professional athlete who was in decent shape down to this state. It can happen to anybody," he said.
Gates is grateful for all the support he's received from family and fans.
"I just really appreciate the support. I believe in the power of prayer. And thank you," he said.
More information about registering as an organ donor is available here.