‘Life is a gift’: Vancouver man reflects on life with new heart

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PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – A Vancouver man who was in need of a heart transplant finally received the life-saving procedure last year after finding a hospital that would take on his case.

Three years ago, KOIN 6 News spoke with Russ Dunn who was one of 20 patients on OHSU’s waiting list for a hear transplant when all of the heart transplant doctors at OHSU quit and the program was being suspended.

At the time, it was the only program in Oregon.

“They said ‘we will take care of your travel expenses and lodging if you have to travel to another facility,’ so that was a great help,” Dunn said.

Dunn was directed to the University of Washington’s program, but was turned down because of his age.

Then, Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles agreed to take on his case – all with the clock ticking. He was raised to a level one patient, meaning he needed a new heart, and soon.

Last year, before Thanksgiving, one arrived.

“They make a big deal of telling you ‘we have an offer for a heart,’” Dunn said.

It was an offer he couldn’t refuse and the surgery was a success. Dunn felt an immediate change.

“I just felt stronger and I could breathe again whereas I didn’t realize, because it’s so slow, I didn’t realize how poor my lung capacity was,” Dunn explained. (Russ Dunn) December 2021.

“I just felt stronger and I could breathe again whereas I didn’t realize, because it’s so slow, I didn’t realize how poor my lung capacity was,” Dunn explained.

The heart was from a man in his 40s earlier this year. Dunn wrote to that man’s family.

“I was laying awake at night thinking of the family and after I wrote the letter, in March, slept like a baby,” Dunn said.

He never heard back, but he felt better knowing he’d let them know he was taking care of their son’s heart.

This past Thanksgiving, Dunn celebrated one year with his new heart at his son’s house. He said hope got him through.

This past Thanksgiving, Dunn celebrated one year with his new heart at his son’s house. He said hope got him through (Russ Dunn) December 2021.

His one piece of advice to others? Listen to your body when there are signs something is off.

“Life is a gift, and you don’t know if there’s going to be a tomorrow,” Dunn said.

Providence Health now has a heart transplant program, which is where Dunn goes for his checkups.

OHSU has also reactivated its program in August of 2019 and has since performed 12 heart transplants.

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