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With a new beat, life goes on for Tom LeGrow

Tom LeGrow returned home to Burin in early October after receiving a new heart at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute in July. LeGrow and his wife Heather spent 10 months in Ontario as he prepared and waited for a transplant.
Tom LeGrow returned home to Burin in early October after receiving a new heart at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute in July. LeGrow and his wife Heather spent 10 months in Ontario as he prepared and waited for a transplant.

Burin, NL - Inside Tom LeGrow’s chest, a new heart is beating right on cue.

he 58-year-old and his wife, Heather, returned home to Burin in early October.

It’s been a long haul for the couple who relocated to Ontario in December 2015 while LeGrow prepared and waited for transplant surgery at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute.

LeGrow’s heart troubles first appeared in 2002 and took some time to be properly identified.

He was not feeling well and didn’t have any energy. Eventually, it was determined he had an enlarged heart that wasn’t functioning well.

“They diagnosed it as a genetic defect – dilated cardiomyopathy – and then between the doctors (in St. John’s) we developed a medication-based treatment, and in five months I was back to work,” LeGrow said.

For 13 years, the Newfoundland Power employee said he never missed a day of work related to his heart condition. He made a few lifestyle changes – not many – and was still able to do most of the things he enjoyed.

Then, out of the blue in September 2015, his health nosedived.

He advanced an appointment he had scheduled with his cardiologist at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s by two weeks. When he arrived in late November, he could barely walk. He was placed in the intensive care unit.

LeGrow was in end-stage heart failure.

“There were no other options,” he said. “The doctor sat us down and talked to us, and he said, ‘You only have one option. That’s to go to Ottawa.’”

he 58-year-old and his wife, Heather, returned home to Burin in early October.

It’s been a long haul for the couple who relocated to Ontario in December 2015 while LeGrow prepared and waited for transplant surgery at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute.

LeGrow’s heart troubles first appeared in 2002 and took some time to be properly identified.

He was not feeling well and didn’t have any energy. Eventually, it was determined he had an enlarged heart that wasn’t functioning well.

“They diagnosed it as a genetic defect – dilated cardiomyopathy – and then between the doctors (in St. John’s) we developed a medication-based treatment, and in five months I was back to work,” LeGrow said.

For 13 years, the Newfoundland Power employee said he never missed a day of work related to his heart condition. He made a few lifestyle changes – not many – and was still able to do most of the things he enjoyed.

Then, out of the blue in September 2015, his health nosedived.

He advanced an appointment he had scheduled with his cardiologist at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s by two weeks. When he arrived in late November, he could barely walk. He was placed in the intensive care unit.

LeGrow was in end-stage heart failure.

“There were no other options,” he said. “The doctor sat us down and talked to us, and he said, ‘You only have one option. That’s to go to Ottawa.’”

The wait

The average wait for a heart transplant for his blood type is a year – once you’re on the waiting list. The LeGrows were told they should be prepared to stay in Ottawa for a year and a half. Tom needed surgery to install a pump to bridge him to the transplant. Once he recovered, he could be placed on the list.

LeGrow was flown to Ottawa by air ambulance less than a week later.

Heather remembers arriving at the hospital. Her husband was settled away in a room. ‘What’s next?’ she recalls wondering, as she stood outside with their suitcases.

LeGrow had the initial procedure, and by Jan. 6 of this year had sufficiently recovered to the point where he was placed on the waiting list for a new heart.

That’s what the LeGrows did. They waited, making the best of the situation. Living in a two-bedroom apartment on the hospital property, the couple had their car shipped to them. They became friends with another couple from Corner Brook in the same situation.

“They were a blessing,” Heather said.

 

A new heart

The months began to pass. Winter turned to spring. Spring became summer. Figuring there was still several months of waiting before a new heart would become available that was suitable for Tom, Heather made plans to go back to Burin to visit her parents during Come Home Year celebrations in late July.

She arrived on July 30 and decided to spend the night with friends before travelling to Burin. LeGrow was staying with his sister-in-law while Heather was away.

Back in Ottawa, LeGrow had gone out for a while and was getting ready for bed when the phone rang at 11:10 p.m.

“The knees just got weak,” he recalled. He needed to come to the hospital right away. They had a heart.

“The first words out of my mouth were, ‘You’re kidding, right?” he said.

They weren’t.

Within 20 minutes he was at the hospital. By 6 a.m. he was in surgery. Heather caught an early morning flight and arrived just as they were wheeling him out.

“When it happens, it’s just bang, bang, bang,” LeGrow said of the transplant process.

Twelve days later he was out of the hospital.

“I won’t be much different than anyone else within a year if things continue to go as planned. Things are going as good as they could be,” LeGrow said.

Instead of the average 12-month wait, his was seven.

“I was really fortunate,” he said.

 

Support

LeGrow said the staff at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute is top notch.

“That’s all they do – the heart business – and they work really well together, all the staff, from the top to the bottom,” he said.

Heather said the support of family and friends got them through.

“I don’t think there was one month that we were there that someone wasn’t visiting,” she said.

“Family and friends get you over those tough humps, just keep you going,” LeGrow said. “When you know someone’s coming, you (have) something to look forward to.”

LeGrow was the fifth person from Newfoundland and Labrador to receive a heart transplant at the Ottawa facility this year. Another young man from Newfoundland has since received an organ. Three more families are still waiting.

LeGrow still has another tough task to do, he said. Soon, he’ll sit down and write a letter to the donor’s family. While donors are kept anonymous, some details are provided. His heart came from a male trauma victim in his thirties.

“He was the exact height and weight as Tom,” Heather said. “It was a perfect match.”

Having given it some thought, saying thank you to a family who has suffered tragedy is difficult, LeGrow said, the emotion apparent.

“It’s hard to talk about,” he said.

LeGrow said he plans to do what he can to help others.

“I’ve been so fortunate that I’ve got to try to pass that along and try to help the process with regards to organ donation. Anybody that I could help as a patient, I’m going to do what I can,” he said.

People who sign up for organ donation have the ability to help eight other people, LeGrow said.

“It’s a no brainer when you think about it. Why wouldn’t you try to help somebody else?”

pherridge@southerngazette.ca

Eastern Health

About organ donation

 

- Ninety-five per cent of Canadians support the idea of organ and tissue donation. However, less than half are registered donors.

- Anyone can be a potential organ donor. There is no age limit for organ donation.

- It is very important that intentions to donate organs or tissues are discussed with family and they know want those wishes in the event of a sudden loss or tragedy. Even though desire to donate may be indicated, next of kin has the final decision.

- You can indicate your intent to donate organs and tissues by completing your Medical Care Plan (MCP) application or renewal form. The words ‘Organ Donor’ will appear on the card.

- You can also indicate your intent to donate organs by having your driver’s licence updated any time you visit Motor Registration.

Eastern Health

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