It started last year around the holidays with a cough, for which 38-year-old Phoenix firefighter David Wipprecht figured he could just take some over-the-counter medicine. But as the New Year approached, his cough was joined by shortness of breath. "It got to the point where I couldn't really breathe much," he tells Arizona's ABC 15-TV. "I went to several doctors who diagnosed it as pneumonia."
X-rays showed that there was fluid around his lungs and heart, which led to the pneumonia diagnoses. He was given medicine to treat his symptoms, but that didn't help. David was convinced it was more than pneumonia and kept pursuing an answer. "It then got to the point where I had to check myself in to the hospital," he says.
David was then referred to Mayo Clinic's Arizona campus, where after a series of tests, cardiologist Evan Kransdorf, M.D., Ph.D., told the father of three that, in fact, it wasn't pneumonia. Instead, he learned that his heart was failing. "He had a very weakened heart due to what we call dilated cardiomyopathy," Dr. Kransdorf tells ABC 15. "The heart becomes dysfunctional and has low pumping function and as a compensation for that, becomes very large and dilated."
And in David's case, Dr. Kransdorf says, it meant he would need a heart transplant. "For most patients with heart failure and reduced squeezing function, medications and devices are effective in managing the symptoms and in also stabilizing the heart function," Dr. Kransdorf says. "But some patients do progress and are not responding to medication. And for these patients, that's when we start thinking about heart transplantation."
It was a shocking diagnosis David says he never saw coming. "I was in denial when Mayo told me I needed a heart transplant," he tells ABC 15. "I figured I could beat it. Just take medicine and get better." Unfortunately, that would not be the case.
After his diagnosis, David was placed on the transplant waiting list until a matching donor could be found. And about three months ago, he underwent a successful heart transplant surgery at Mayo Clinic's Arizona campus that he says has not only left him feeling "thankful and blessed," but also has given him a new appreciation for the importance of organ donation. "I'm living proof of the importance of being an organ donor," he says. "I'm still here. I'm still living. I plan to go back to work and be a firefighter again. I can still raise my family. So it's really important."
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