The ‘Heart’ of the Matter is That an Organ Donation Saved Sam Dey’s Life

The ‘Heart’ of the Matter is That an Organ Donation Saved Sam Dey’s Life

The ‘Heart’ of the Matter is That an Organ Donation Saved Sam Dey’s Life

In 2009, Sam Dey was working for General Motors and in India on business.

It was during that business trip that Sam started falling.

“I was collapsing and falling in these incredibly crowded streets of India,” says Sam. “I was falling everywhere, and people were always pouring water on my face to revive me.”

Doctors in India told Sam—who had congestive heart failure and type 2 diabetes—that his badly damaged heart would prevent him from returning to the United States.

Sam ended up being stranded in India from 2009 until 2014.

“Can you believe that?” he asks.  “I went to India for a routine business trip, and I ended up staying for five years.”

In 2010, Sam had a quadruple bypass surgery because he was going downhill fast. He was later told by his doctors in India that his best bet was to somehow get back to the U.S.

Checking into a Hospital—and Not Checking Out for Seven Months

Sam was heavily medicated for the flight, and he and his new wife Viji returned to the U.S. They settled in Maryland with his brother.

It was not long, however, before Sam started falling again.

By the end of 2014, he was referred to the Baltimore campus of the University of Maryland. It was there that he met Dr. Erika Feller, who took one look at Sam and told him they were going to admit him.

“It was December 22, 2014,” remembers Sam. “Dr. Feller took one look and me and said, ‘You are a perfect candidate for a heart transplant, but you need to be in the hospital.’”

For the next seven months, Sam did not leave that hospital.

Holidays, Birthdays, and a Final Celebration

While in the hospital, Sam did all he could to educate himself.

“I knew heart transplants were not as common as kidney transplants … and that it was going to take a longer time to find a donor,” he says. “I was scared but my wife and care team were confident … During those seven months, I was not able to see my kids, and I became very depressed.”

Viji stayed with Sam every night. They broke in the New Year in that hospital room. They watched the Super Bowl there, and celebrated Valentine’s Day and their birthdays (which they share). They celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in that hospital and finally—on April 19, 2015—he got “the call.”

Sam and Viji started crying, and his nurses came into his room. It was 9 p.m. in the hospital, and everybody was cheering.

The ‘Heart’ of the Matter is That Organ Donation Saved Sam Dey’s Life

‘I Couldn’t Believe the Energy I Had’

The next morning at 7 a.m., Sam got his heart transplant.

“When I woke up, I was told right way that I had color in my face because my new heart was now pumping good blood,” says Sam. “I was itching to get out of bed. Pretty soon, I started doing laps around the cardiac care unit of the hospital. I couldn’t believe the energy I had.”

After leaving the hospital, Sam was able to watch his daughter Anika graduate high school. He was also able to help her write applications and essays for college.

I was able to teach my other daughter, Maya, how to drive,” he says. “I was able to do all of these things I never would have been able to do.”

Sam and Viji with their two daughters, Anika and Maya.
Sam and Viji with their two daughters, Anika and Maya.

Grateful … and Wanting to Give Back

Sam calls his life “crazy good” since his transplant, and all he wants to do now is give back.

He is on the national board for TRIO whose mission is to advocate for all transplant recipients and to create awareness for organ donation.

He is also involved with UNOS as well as the Living Legacy Foundation in Baltimore.

In addition to raising awareness around organ donations, Sam is vigilant in his personal care. He constantly refers to his donor heart as “this gift” and “this blessing.”

The one thing Sam has not enjoyed about his post-transplant life has been solid biopsies, which he describes as “invasive and painful.”

“Solid biopsies take a lot of time, and they’re stressful,” he says, “but back in 2015 there wasn’t anything else as an alternative.”

Then, in August 2020, Sam discovered AlloSure®, which is not a solid biopsy. AlloSure is a liquid biopsy that uses fragments from the blood to detect signs of organ rejection.

“I do AlloSure and AlloMap® every month,” he says. “That has helped me to avoid biopsy. I understand that sometimes I might still have to have one, but so far by using AlloSure and AlloMap I haven’t had to.”

Sam also does his routine lab work using RemoTraC.

“It takes about 10 minutes … tops. During the pandemic, RemoTraC has been amazing, because it’s not a good time to be in a hospital, and I’m not about to take that risk.”

Hopeful to Meet His Donor Family

Sam would very much like to meet the family of his donor, to whom he has tried writing. All he knows about his heart donor is that it was a 49-year-old who died from a stroke.

Sam says it is always bittersweet when his heart transplant anniversary comes up, because he knows it is a somber anniversary for his donor’s family and friends.

“I’m hopeful I will be able to meet my donor’s family someday, so that I can thank them in person. I recently turned 50 and that would not have been possible had my donor not registered to be one. Back when I was falling down all the time, I didn’t think I would even make it to 45.”

 

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