When Randy Marlow's doctors in Colorado told him there was nothing more they could do to repair his heart, he was ready to give up. His girlfriend, Lisa Black, was not. She brought Randy to Mayo Clinic for a second opinion, and he found a second chance. "Mayo accepted me as a heart-liver transplant patient," says Randy, age 46, who was born with atrial septal defect. "It felt like I had another chance at life."
But that chance hasn't come yet, as Randy is still waiting for matching donor organs. As of April 21, his wait has stretched to 321 days — all of them spent at the Saint Marys Campus of Mayo Clinic Hospital in Rochester. "Randy is a status 1A recipient, which means he has to stay in the hospital until a donor is found," says Kim Poe, nurse manager on Domitilla 4D, where he is a patient. Randy's wait is particularly long because he has a rare blood type and requires a near-perfect match, and because of the nature of his transplant. According to the United Network of Organ Sharing, just 166 heart-liver transplants have been performed in the United States. Mayo has performed 29 of those.
For Randy and three other patients on the unit, 1A status means no trips to the grocery store, movie theater or restaurants. Even a walk outside or a visit to another floor requires planning and supervision by a nurse. Poe and her colleagues recognize how hard this is on their patients and "try to come up with creative ideas to break up the monotony." They organize holiday parties, arrange opportunities for patients to cook their own meals, and celebrate milestones in their patients' lives — including each patient's 100-day anniversary on the unit. For Randy, they arranged a candlelight dinner.
"We knew his girlfriend was going to be in town, so we made arrangements to have a special meal in the solarium," says Poe. Staff decorated the room with flowers, white linen and candles (battery powered, for the fire marshals out there), and donated money to pay for the meal, which included shrimp cocktail, filet mignon, sparkling grape juice and crème brulee. "It was amazing that they did that for me," Randy says of the staff's generosity. "The room looked spectacular."
Though he appreciated the big gesture, it's the smaller ones that seem to matter most to Randy. "Lisa's in Colorado, and my family is in New York, so I don't have anyone close by," he says. "So the staff make extra efforts to help me. They'll swing by the store to pick me up socks or deodorant. They take time to play games or just spend time with me. When I want to talk, they listen. Little things like that make such a big difference."
It's a difference Poe says she and her colleagues are honored to make. "We so admire our patients' courage and patience," she says. "You develop different relationships with patients when they're here for such a long time. Any gestures that make them smile also make us happy." Of course, Randy and his caregivers will be even happier when he gets his transplant. He and more than 123,000 patients are waiting for transplants in the United States alone, a fact you may hear often during April, which is National Donate Life Month.
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