24-year-old man first to receive a new heart through restarted transplant program

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — A 24-year-old Mendota man has a new heart, and new lease on life.

John Wlodarchak said he thought he had COVID-19 last year when he went to the hospital.

“Started out I had a runny nose and sore throat… It came on like that,” he said, snapping his fingers.

But it wasn’t COVID-19. Four days after being admitted to the hospital, he was diagnosed with viral myocarditis, an inflammatory condition that leads to heart failure.

“He deteriorated very quickly, about 24-48 hours. We had to put him on machines to support his heart,” said Dr. Barry Clemson, heart transplant medical director at OSF HealthCare St. Francis in Peoria.

Wlodarchak remained at the hospital for 93 days, and was discharged with a left ventricular assist device (LVAD),  an mechanical pump implanted in the body to help pump blood to the heart.

When the right side of his heart started to fail in January, Wlodarchak went back to the hospital, where he remained for six more weeks.

He became the first patient to receive a new heart through the medical center’s newly restarted heart transplantation program. Dr. Clemson said the initial program was from 1987-2007 and its first patient is still alive at 90 years old, and she still comes for biannual checkups.

Five weeks being discharged from the hospital, Wlodarchak said he feels great. His aftercare involves a biopsy every few weeks, and a weekly blood draw.

“The different was immediate… Just being able to go out and do what I want to do, when I want to do it… its the best feeling ever,” he said.

Dr. Clemson said the availability of organs is increasing, and OSF St. Francis provides a convenient regional location.

“If you think about it, if you want to get a heart transplant and you live in central Illinois, you have to go to Chicago, Iowa City, Indianapolis, St. Louis and nothing in between,” Dr. Clemson said.

He said the heart transplantation program relies on donors. Each donor can save eight lives.

Nationally, there are more than 3,500 Americans on the heart transplant waiting list, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), a non-profit organization that manages the U.S. organ transplantation system.

April is National Donate Life Month. Learn more about organ donation through Donate Life America, an non-profit that encourages organ donation.

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