Hours after surgeons gave him a new heart, Colby Salerno woke up and spoke to his parents and sisters, who surrounded his bed.
"When the breathing tube came out, you know what his first words were? 'I want to make my donor proud,'" Kelly Salerno said Wednesday outside Hartford Hospital, where doctors performed her son's heart transplant.
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Hartford Hospital, 80 Seymour St, Hartford, CT 06102, USA
Colby Salerno, 24, of Cheshire, has blogged about his long wait in the hospital — more than five months — for a new heart. He began writing "Tales from the 10th Floor" shortly after he began his stay at the hospital in December. It gained an avid following, including New York Yankees' manager Joe Girardi, who called Salerno about six weeks ago.
Kelly Salerno said that her son was now sitting up, exhausted and in a lot of pain. Dr. Detlef Wencker, director of the hospital's heart transplant program, said that the operation went well. Colby Salerno will be out of the cardiac intensive care unit in three to five days and should be home in two weeks, Wencker said. His drug regimen will at first consist of 32 different medications, mostly to keep his body from rejecting the new heart. Gradually the number of medications will decrease, but Salerno will probably need anti-rejection drugs for the rest of his life.
Now that her son has a new heart, Kelly Salerno said that his recovery is her new focus.
"We have a different road ahead of us. He's in that hospital now, very weak, very tired, in pain, and we need to keep him in good health," she said. "Germs, rejection — all that is weighing on the back of our minds."
Jeff Salerno said he was glad that his son was so relaxed before the operation.
"I walked into the room and looked at him and I knew he was ready," Jeff Salerno said. "He looked so calm, composed. He's been waiting for this since he was 12, basically."
Colby was diagnosed 12 years ago with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition that is usually detected during the teenage years. It is a congenital defect in which heart muscle thickens in the heart's left ventricle, which interferes with blood flow. That forces the heart to work harder to pump blood, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Salerno's health began to worsen in college. Because his condition doesn't allow for a mechanical pump, doctors had to rely on a cocktail of drugs to keep his heart functioning, but they cautioned Salerno that the medications wouldn't continue working for long. A transplant was deemed the best option.
Wencker said that it took more than five months to find the new heart because the match has to be perfect. Because Salerno is a young person, he said, doctors wanted the heart to be young, also. Other factors, such as blood type and the patient's size, also come into play. A new heart has to fit well within the patient's chest wall.
Wencker said that about 20 heart transplants are performed at Hartford Hospital each year.
Kelly Salerno said that her family does not know the identity of the heart's donor, other than that the person was 18. The family of Jesus Vega, an 18-year-old from Bristol who died Monday after injuries he suffered a week earlier on a basketball court, said they believed that it was his heart that Salerno received Tuesday.
"I'm so sad for their loss," Kelly Salerno said Wednesday, "yet so grateful that they chose to have their loved one be a donor and have it match and have it be a perfect match to Colby."
Jami Tyska, in-house coordinator at Hartford Hospital for LifeChoice Donor Services, said that neither the recipient nor the family of an organ donor are given the other's identity unless both parties agree that they want to know. That usually takes a few weeks at least. However, in some cases, there's enough publicly available information that recipients or donors' families can make informed guesses.