After more than two years of waiting endured with determination and faith, a new heart is beating in the chest of Town of Tonawanda Police Officer Timothy Day.
Day, 47, received the transplant in a lengthy surgery that started Sunday morning in Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, where Day had been a patient since August 2014. His wife, Sherry Brinser-Day, was flown to Boston to be with him by a volunteer pilot from the local charity Wings Flights of Hope. Their three children, Erin, Clare and Henry, are being cared for by relatives in their Kenmore home.
Just after 10 a.m. Sunday, Sherry Brinser-Day posted on Facebook, “THE GIFT OF A HEART IS HERE!! Tim just went into surgery and I will keep you posted. Your continued support and prayers are greatly appreciated. Love you all!!” Her more than 400 Facebook friends responded with an outpouring of excited support for the family.
Sunday night, Brinser-Day posted an update on the Donors for Day Facebook page, “The best news in over three years! Tim is in ICU recovering well. Dr. MacGillvrey said he has a great heart, the best of the four offers recently.”
Brinser-Day said that she and her sister-in-law, Peggy, with whom Tim Day has been staying outside Boston since late March, “are waiting to see Tim for a quick visit behind the glass. He may have the breathing tube removed early tomorrow morning, depending on how well he wakes up on his own.”
Brinser-Day thanked people for their love and prayers and asked for “extra prayers” for the donor family.
Day has been waiting for a heart transplant for more than two years after his heart was ravaged by hypereosinophilic syndrome, a rare autoimmune disease. In the spring and summer of 2013, he was a patient in Rochester’s Strong Memorial Hospital, where he waited more than four months for a donated heart that never came. He was eventually implanted with a left ventricle assist device pump, which assisted his weakened heart, but he was removed from Strong’s transplant list.
“His case was just too complicated,” said Brinser-Day.
In June 2014, Day was accepted in the Massachusetts General Hospital transplant program, and thanks to the availability of Wings Flights of Hope volunteer pilots, he was able to stay at home with his young family until late March, when he moved in with his sister Peggy and her husband, Dave, who live outside Boston.
The month leading up to Sunday’s transplant had been punctuated by nerve-wracking near-misses, or as transplant patients call them, “fire drills,” when the patient is told that an organ may be available and told not to eat or drink anything and wait to hear while the organ is procured and tested for compatibility.
On May 7, Brinser-Day had posted the same Facebook message she posted Sunday morning: The gift of a heart has arrived for Tim!!! Please pray for the heroic donor and their family and please continue your wonderful thoughts, prayers, and energies!!! Love you all and will update when I can!”
That day, Brinser-Day hopped a Wings Flights of Hope plane and was taken to Boston by a volunteer pilot. Upon landing, she got a text from her husband saying she didn’t need to even get off the plane. “There was an issue retrieving the heart from its location, so the surgery didn’t happen,” she wrote. “It was not meant to be this time …”
Day himself told his family, friends and supporters, “So there was a problem with the plane and the organ harvest team was unable to go and retrieve the heart. We are deeply disappointed but believe that everything happens for a reason and this just wasn’t meant to be today. It will happen though. Thank you all for your prayers, positive thoughts and well wishes. I’m sure they will help get us to transplant eventually. … We’ll get ’em next time.”
The most nerve-wracking call came May 22, when the Days left Boston by car, headed for their niece’s wedding in Rochester. The phone rang when they were halfway there, in Albany. “Tim’s cardiologist called and said there was a potential heart offer for Tim,” Brinser-Day wrote. “We were told to stop, have a rest and they would call us when the evaluation was done and give a yes to go back to Boston, or proceed on to Rochester. We thought it might take an hour or two, as the process is very thorough and does take time.”
They parked at a mall near the Albany airport and waited as first one and then two hours passed.
Brinser-Day wrote, “Tensions were building as we hit the third hour, and we started to wonder what the long wait might be indicating. Each minute that passed now was not just anxiety inducing, but sheer mental TORTURE.”
After calling the hospital twice, at Brinser-Day’s insistence, they were pulling onto the highway to start back to Boston when the surgeon called to say that the organ had been found to be unfit for transplant due to the narrowing of some arteries.
Brinser-Day tried to be optimistic. “Most heart transplant candidates (probably 99 percent) don’t get the benefit of waiting outside the hospital or to go on short leaves to visit family, so we must roll with all of this,” she wrote.
In a post on his Caring Bridge site Saturday, Day told the story too. “Four hours and thirteen minutes of waiting. Stress like I’ve never felt before. That which doesn’t kill me will only make me stronger,” he wrote. But he, too, was looking on the bright side. “As Sherry mentioned, most people in my condition are hospitalized while they wait for transplant so I consider myself very lucky to have escaped for the weekend.”
The Days, who had been joined by his sister Peggy and her husband, Dave, who were also making the trip, “found a nice steakhouse for dinner and I worked off my anxiety on a 24 oz. rib eye steak,” wrote Day. “Everyone else ate something else. We then got back on the road and got to Rochester just before 10:30 p.m. The kids were still up and I was very happy to hug and kiss each one.”
They attended the wedding, which lifted everyone’s spirits. Brinser-Day wrote, “We did hear that a friend of a relative went through 8 (!) of these drills before she got her heart. We are beaten down a bit, but we still have every hope and belief that Tim WILL get his heart soon!!” Brinser-Day said.
On Thursday, Brinser-Day posted, “Tim had another heart offer today, but it didn’t happen. This wait for the evaluation was MUCH less stressful because he was in Boston, ready to drive into MGH. We are imagining the next one will happen again soon; please pray that it will work out!!”
On Sunday, it did just that.