In 1998, Adam Vasser, a 13-year-old teenager who loved playing baseball, was vacationing in Montana with his family when he suddenly came down with what felt like the flu. When he had trouble breathing and his ankles became swollen, his parents took him to a nearby clinic where the doctor on duty checked his vitals and sent him directly to the hospital across the street. By the time the family arrived at the hospital a few minutes later, Adam was in complete heart failure.
For months, Adam waited in a hospital for a heart transplant, during which time his heart was only able to pump with the assistance of a left-ventricular assist device (LVAD). “It was the size of a washing machine and it had two tubes that went through my chest into my left ventricle to help it pump blood,” Adam, now a 30-year-old teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area, recalls. “My official diagnosis was idiopathic viral cardiomyopathy. Meaning, basically, a virus of unknown origin had attacked my heart.” Four and a half months after getting sick, Adam underwent a heart transplant that saved his life.
But thousands of people aren’t as lucky. In the United States alone, 21 people die everyday waiting for an organ transplant. Though about 45 percent of American adults are registered organ donors, it varies widely by state. More than 80 percent of adults in Alaska were registered donors in 2012, compared to only 12.7 percent in New York, for example. In New York alone, there are more than 10,000 people currently waiting for organ transplants. According to data compiled by the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, more than 500 people died in New York last year, waiting for an organ to become available.