Supported by donor family, UK heart recipient makes major strides
April 4, 2019 / in Patient stories, Heart health, Transplant / by UK HealthCare
When he came to UK HealthCare for his six-month post-surgery checkup, heart transplant patient David Barber had a little extra support by his side: Dewey Bishop, the father of David’s organ donor, 21-year-old Matthew Bishop.
“I felt like it was something I should be at,” Dewey said. “Not that I felt entitled, but to be there for support.”
In need of a heart transplant
After years of worsening health problems that included a stroke, atrial fibrillation and congestive heart failure, Barber spent 15 months with a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) from Christ Hospital in Cincinnati to keep his heart going. He came to UK HealthCare in 2017 to be evaluated for a heart transplant.
When he received his new heart in August 2018, Barber had no hesitation about wanting to reach out to his donor’s family. He describes seeing his first echocardiogram with a strong, healthy heart as a “moving, emotional” moment.
“Previously, my echos looked like fireworks,” Barber said. “I knew what a bad echo looked like, and so I knew I was seeing a good one. I was motivated to write something [to my donor family] that day.”
The donor family
Barber felt particularly compelled to reach out to his donor family because of his already close connection with transplantation – his father received a heart transplant in 1995 and never had the chance to contact his donor family.
“I understand both sides of a donor’s situation,” Barber said. “I’ve thought about that for a long time, and I could understand if they didn’t want to meet me, but I wanted them to know how thankful I was for the gift that they had given me.”
His letter was delivered to Dewey and Kristy Bishop via Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates (KODA), and shortly after, they had their first phone call. Dewey describes hearing Barber’s voice for the first time as “emotional and gratifying.”
“After the initial awkwardness on the phone, we were family,” Barber said. “There was a connection there that’s hard to understand if you’re not in that situation.”
Barber and the Bishops have formed a close bond in just a few short months. Since their initial contact, they’ve met up several times. In addition to supporting Barber at his checkups, the Bishops have also shown up to support Barber at his favorite post-transplant hobby: running races.
Return to running
Prior to his heart problems, Barber described himself as a “weekend warrior” who had run a few 5Ks. When he met his girlfriend, her interest in fitness and endurance running inspired him to do more, but his subsequent heart failure and LVAD meant he had a limited capacity for being active.
But following his transplant, he set an ambitious goal: to run the Flying Pig Half-Marathon in Cincinnati just nine months later. He started working on his goal early – three weeks out from surgery, he walked his first full mile. He’s been steadily training ever since, working on improving his distance and pace and participating in smaller local races along the way. At the recent American Heart Association Heart Mini 15K, Barber completed the race and gave his medal to the Bishops, who were cheering him on at the finish line.
“Basically, I kind of think of running as a metaphor for beating a chronic illness or at least tackling a chronic illness,” Barber said. “You want to show up, you want to have a plan, and then you want to compete.”
Barber and the Bishops will next meet up at UK HealthCare’s Donate Life Celebration on Thursday, April 11, in the atrium of UK Chandler Hospital Pavilion A. Held in honor of Donate Life month, the event encourages faculty, staff and students to attend and wear blue and green to celebrate the success of organ, eye and tissue transplantation and the need for registered donors. As featured guests, Barber, his father and the Bishops will share their story to show how organ donation changes lives and to honor the courage of donors.
“Between my dad and myself, I don’t think organ donation could mean more to a family than it does to us,” Barber said. “For 23 years we’ve always wondered about his donor. So when we got the chance to meet my donor’s family, it’s kind of like saying thank you to his donor family as well.”
About organ donation
Although hospitals are obligated by law to identify potential donors and allow the organ donor procurement program to inform families of their right to donate, anyone can sign up to become an organ donor by joining the Kentucky Organ Donor Registry. The registry is a safe and secure electronic database where a person’s wishes regarding donation will be carried out as requested.
To join the registry, visit registerme.org or sign up when you renew your driver’s license. The donor registry enables family members to know that you chose to save and enhance lives through donation. Kentucky’s “First Person Consent” laws mean that the wishes of an individual on the registry will be carried out as requested.