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My name is Mathew Pribish, I am a Linden Firefighter and a Heart Transplant Recipient. My story starts when I went to the doctor for a regular cardiology checkup because heart disease runs in my family and I wanted to make sure that as a firefighter, my heart was healthy. I was told during one of these regular checkups, that I have Marfan Syndrome.
Marfan Syndrome is a connective tissue disorder that affects the heart, joints and other parts of the body. The trouble with Marfan Syndrome is that there is a great chance of the aortic root of the heart dilating and rupturing, which is called Aortic Dissection and can be easily mistaken for a heart attack or other ailment. This mistake can be fatal if not recognized quickly. In 2013, after being monitored for a few years, my aortic root was enlarged to the point that I needed Aortic Root Replacement surgery at Columbia/New York Presbyterian Hospital in NY. Although my surgery went well, I had an adverse reaction where the cause is still unknown and went into advanced heart failure. My heart’s ejection fraction was down from 55% to 10-15% and I was very sick. The doctors made the decision to implant a Centrimag BiVad-which is an external device to pump both sides of my heart. After a couple of weeks, my heart healed enough to take that out and implant an LVAD-Left Ventricular Assist Device. That was my lifeline for 4 years. During this time, I was put onto the New York Transplant list.
Life with an LVAD isn’t easy and it was hard to adjust to at first-no swimming, limited showers, limited activities and lots of medication. Thankfully with my family,my fire department family, and my doctors, I was able to forge through into this new new normal for me. I was able to go back to work for the fire department to a desk job where I became an Administrative part of the FD team, as well as a Fire Inspector. During this time, I started to walk/jog in local 5K’s to keep myself moving and in a healthy condition so that I can be a perfect candidate for transplant.
In 2017, my cardiologist recommended that I also be put onto the New Jersey transplant list. In February of that year,I started the process at Newark Beth Israel Hospital. In the time leading up to my approval on the NJ transplant list, the alarm of my LVAD device started to sound, on and off. Although I felt fine, I knew that it was cause for concern, so back to NY Presbyterian, I went. The team of Doctors decided that it was a mechanical issue and that they would either need to either replace the LVAD or hold me in the hospital for transplant. By this time, I was already listed as type A on the NY list and had almost completed my work up for the NJ list. I opted to wait for Transplant and remain in the hospital.
On June 22, I was informed by Newark Beth Israel that I was officially listed on the NJ list. It was just 4 days later, that my wife got the phone call early in the morning. “Mrs Pribish, we found a heart for your husband”. There were so many emotions that day. Happiness that this journey was moving on to getting back to myself, sadness for the family that lost their loved one, thankfulness that they chose to donate and nervous for everything else. On June 27, 2017, I had a successful LVAD removal/Heart Transplant.
Since my transplant, I have been blessed enough to return to the life I had known before I had gotten sick. In my donor’s memory, I have decided to become a transplant advocate through the NJ Sharing Network. In Fall of 2018, I was released by the doctors to return to full firefighting duties. On January 3, 2019, I returned to the fire department for my first day back at the position I left almost 6 years before. I never thought I would see this day, returning back to active duty, but thankfully to my donor, doctors, and the Sharing Network, this dream became a reality. I hope to be a glimpse of hope for those that may need a transplant to inspire them to keep the faith.
Thank you Compuscore for giving me this chance to share my story and spreading the news about Organ Donation. #donatelife #transplantgames #njsharingnetwork