Ever since Victor was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure in 2005, he’s been waiting for a new heart. In early August, he finally got one.
As previously reported, (Re: “Victor’s heart,” Nov. 21, 2018), Victor immigrated to Longmont from Guatemala in 1999 when he was 17. Shortly after his diagnosis, he married Estella, whom he’d known in Guatemala, and the couple now has two young daughters, Ailin and Yaretzi. For years, Victor couldn’t afford the private insurance that would get him on a transplant list. According to Milliman Research, a heart transplant costs approximately $1.4 million, by far the costliest transplant surgery in the U.S.
With no way to afford a new heart, Victor’s situation grew more dire in 2016, as his condition worsened, leaving him unable to work and the family dependent on Estella’s multiple fast-food jobs.
Then late last year, a successful community GoFundMe campaign raised enough money to get Victor private insurance starting Jan. 1, 2019, giving the family reason to hope.
After that, says friend and GoFundMe organizer, Nick Robles, Victor started new medication and was being monitored better than ever before. Although he was first denied due to his lack of “long-term insurance coverage and caregiver support,” on May 3, Victor was officially placed on the active waiting list for a heart transplant through the United Network for Organ Sharing at the Heart Transplant Program at the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora. (He appealed the initial decision, citing community and church support for ongoing insurance payments and a list of caregiver support that includes his wife, sister, sisters-in-law, father, cousin, pastor and friends.)
By the end of July, his health was deteriorating. He had a hard time breathing and could barely walk. “I was thinking my heart really couldn’t go any longer,” Victor says.
So at the beginning of August, he was admitted, once again, into the hospital, where he was told the doctors would give him three days to wait for a donor heart to become available. If that didn’t happen, they would install a heart pump as a temporary solution, something Victor was trying hard to avoid.
On the night of the third day, Victor finally received some good news. A donor heart was available and he’d have transplant surgery the next day.
“I started crying immediately when they told me. I was so grateful. I really didn’t want to go through the pump process,” Victor says. “I started crying from happiness because this is something I’ve needed for so long.”
On Aug. 7, Victor received his new heart. It’s only been more good news from the doctors since: his body accepted the organ, and he looks to make a full recovery.
“Ever since the operation, it’s been easier not to worry,” he says.
Although he’ll be on medication for the rest of his life, Victor says he already feels better. He can breathe easier, and he’s already going on walks around the block. He’s been told he can go back to work in about seven months, something he hasn’t been able to do for the last two years.
“It’s humbling to think we can raise $11,000 and that can turn into being worth more than $1 million,” Robles says. “We feel fortunate that we were able to raise the money and Victor was able to access that service.”
There is a financial toll, however, Victor says, and the family is still depending on community generosity and support. He still has his out-of-pocket maximum to pay off and monthly insurance bills. All of that pales in comparison, though, to the fact that Victor’s alive and getting healthier, Estella says.
“The real significance is that he’s here with our daughters right now and he’ll be here,” Estella says through tears. “And thanks to God for making it happen and to the people of Colorado for helping us.”