SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Over the past 35 years in Utah, 1,549 people have received the most precious gift imaginable – a new heart from someone they never knew. 

Wednesday, on the 35th anniversary of the UTAH Cardiac Transplant Program, we had the opportunity to meet some of the recipients who are alive today because of the program’s doctors and nurses…and of course, the people who volunteered to donate their organs after death.

“My name is Gerold,” five-year-old Gerold Orfanos said. “I love my new heart.”

His mother, Amanda Orfanos says Gerold was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy just before his 2nd birthday.

“He has a lot of energy he always has,” she said. “Even in severe heart failure, he was very, very energetic which made the diagnosis very, very shocking.”

After heart transplant surgery at Primary Children’s Hospital, Gerold is thriving and still very active. He’s one of the youngest success stories of the Utah Cardiac Transplant Program, a unique collaboration of medical professionals from Intermountain Healthcare, the University of Utah Health, and the Salt Lake City VA Medical Center.

Ixel Flores received her first of two donor hearts through the program when she was just 8 years old.

“I had to go through elementary school, middle school, and high school with a huge scar on my chest and I would always hide it. Not until recently have I become proud of it because it represents the struggle that not only myself but a lot of us have been through as transplant patients so now I wear it proudly,” Flores said. “I knew that somebody had to lose their life for me to continue to live mine so my two donors have been my heroes and I definitely want to live my life so I can honor them every day.”

Claire Larson was diagnosed with congenital heart failure in 2000 and spent 16 years waiting on the donor list before getting her transplant.

“This incredible new heart just changed my life around. In fact, I was running this morning and I was trying to think of stuff to say today and share my gratitude and I just thought ‘The first thing to say is the fact that I’m running is incredible’,” Larson said. “It’s just an amazing feeling and some things we take for granted like going to bed at night and knowing you’re going to wake up in the morning…is such an incredible blessing…God willing, I’ll be here for the 50 year anniversary. Woo hoo!”

Gerold may be around to celebrate the program’s 100th anniversary after nearly not seeing his own 5th birthday.

“He would not be here today without the care he received there from our transplant team,” Amanda said. “He really did bring a smile to the face of everyone he met. Always dancing down the hallways. We’d have music blasting always. You can’t look at him without smiling and that’s still true today.”

To learn more about becoming an organ donor, visit the Utah Donor Registry’s website at www.yesutah.org

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