Firefighter gets new heart for Christmas

Firefighter gets new heart for Christmas

Heart transplant patient Barbara Fudge with University of Rochester Medical Center transplant cardiologist Doctor Himabindu Vidula in an undated photo. Fudge received a new heart Dec. 11.

ELMIRA, N.Y. — After years of helping to save strangers' lives, a 68-year-old firefighter received a lifesaving gift of her own this December: a new heart.

Barbara Fudge, a firefighter with the Erin Volunteer Fire Department, doesn't know whose heart now beats in her chest, or the circumstances that led to her receiving it, but she calls the healthy organ "the ultimate gift."

Firefighter gets new heart for Christmas

Heart transplant patient Barbara Fudge with University of Rochester Medical Center transplant cardiologist Doctor Himabindu Vidula in an undated photo. Fudge received a new heart Dec. 11.

Despite being on a variety of medications to manage her failing heart, the dizziness and shortness of breath kept returning. In January, a University of Rochester electrophysiologist placed an implantable cardioverter defibrillator in her chest to help keep a steady heart rhythm.

A few months ago, she received the diagnosis of cardiomyopathy, the same disease that proved fatal for her brother and sister. She was tested for the disease earlier in life when her sister was first diagnosed, but nothing was found. Cardiomyopathy occurs when a heart enlarges and weakens, and is no longer able to pump enough blood through the body.

One of her few options was to get a new heart, but New York is one of the worst states for organ donor participation, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center. Just 22% of New York state adults were registered as organ and tissue donors in 2014, compared to 48% nationwide, according to the New York Alliance for Donation. Only Vermont had a lower number.

“When I was waiting, it occurred to me that as a first responder, I was helping save others, and now I’m waiting for somebody to help save me,” Fudge said.

Firefighter gets new heart for Christmas

Barbara Fudge rapelling down a four-story building during a training exercise in Montour Falls in an undated photo. Fudge is a Erin Volunteer Fire Department firefighter.

She waited about two months.

“When they told me they had a good heart for me, I was speechless," Fudge said. "What can you say when someone gives you a Christmas gift like that?”

Nationwide, there are about 2,300 heart donors per year, Fudge’s transplant cardiologist Himabindu Vidula, M.D., M.S. said. While that number stays steady, the need is on the rise.

Heart transplant surgeon Juan Lehoux performed the transplant in a four-hour surgery at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester on Dec. 11. Inpatient recovery time is coming to a close, Vidula said.

"She is doing very well," Vindula said of Fudge's status Thursday. "Hopefully she'll go home soon. She's progressing very well after her heart transplant. We are always proud to see patients thrive after a heart transplant, and we are working to help her return home to her family and routine.”

Specialists in the Program in Heart Failure and Transplantation will continue to monitor Fudge’s recovery for the rest of her life.

Firefighter gets new heart for Christmas

Barbara Fudge and daughter, Heidi, joined the Erin Volunteer Fire Department together almost 20 years ago.

Eventually, Fudge would like to be back serving the community in her firefighter and EMT capacity. Serving and being involved in the community are high priorities for her. She’s served as an assistant fire chief and Red Cross volunteer; she went to New York City following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Vidula said it was an honor to be able to provide a heart to a woman who has served the community in many ways.

Fudge was one of about 10,000 in the state waiting for organ transplants, according to statistics from the Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network.

In the days following the procedure, Fudge felt the need to make sure she was an organ donor.

"How can you accept a gift and not be willing to give one back?" Fudge asked, then pulled out her drivers license to show her signed permission to possibly save someone else's life someday.



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