Christian Siems knows first-hand the threat posed by a shortage of organ donations. He’s lived it.
A few years ago, Siems was one of thousands of patients placed on a waiting list for an organ transplant. His heart was failing him, and he was in desperate need of a new one.
His story began in June of 2012 at a high school blood drive where he attempted to donate blood. He went in for a standard screening, making sure he was in good health before giving blood, but a nurse noticed something odd – he had an irregular heartbeat. The nurse suggested to seek out a doctor and, a few weeks later, he did.
Siems went to a cardiologist, where he underwent tests to determine the condition of his heart. What he thought would be a simple examination turned into something very serious – tests determined his heart was functioning at less than 20% capacity. This prompted doctors to install a defibrillator, since he was at risk of cardiac arrest.
Medication steadied his condition, and his life returned to normal – but it didn’t last long.
“A few months after that I started feeling really terrible,” said Siems. “I couldn’t walk. I could walk ten feet and had to sit down.”
Doctors realized his heart was failing. His body started to build up blood and he was soon airlifted to Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, NY. During his stay, Christian went into severe cardiac arrest and underwent surgery. He had a Left Ventricular Assisted Device (LVAD) installed to keep him alive by helping his heart pump blood to the rest of the body. After that, he was placed on the national transplant waiting list for a new heart.
Most people wait years before they’re able to receive a transplant. Thankfully, that was not the case for Siems. On April 25, 2015, Siems underwent a successful heart transplant surgery, receiving his heart from Nicholas Brown, a marine, and was on his way to recovery.
Now, three years later, he’s doing very well. Like others, he’s working on building a future. When he’s not busy working or attending college, he’s enjoying some of his hobbies.
“I bought a drone. I’ve been flying it for the past year,” Siems said. “It’s fun.”
He’s studying for a drone operating license, where he needs to pass a rigorous test in order to fly a drone commercially.
Even though the ordeal is behind him, Siems advocates raising awareness on the lack of registered donors in the country. His story is one of many but unfortunately, some of the thousands of patients on the waiting list will not have a happy ending such as his.
“I was very lucky,” he said. “We lose 20 people a day on that list.”
He hopes more people will sign up to help those who are currently awaiting transplants – and he’s not alone.
LiveOnNY, a nonprofit, federally designated organ procurement organization (OPO), is hoping to raise awareness as well.
On the morning of April 29, just days after the 3rd anniversary of Christian’s transplant, the organization will host a 5K run to raise awareness on the lack of registered organ donors in New York, a State that ranks lowest in the number of donors. Last year, only 26% of New Yorkers were registered, compared to the national average of 50%. The upcoming event hopes to spread a message to New Yorkers, and that message is: Go out and register.
“I think it’s a great thing,” Siems said. “I hope a lot of people show up.”
He believes the upcoming fundraiser, which will take place at Harborfields High School in Greenlawn, is a great way to get the message across; seeing it as a way to bring people together and teach them about the importance of organ donation.
“Hopefully we’ll do this again next year and the year after that,” Siems said. “I have so many friends now that have been affected by organ donation.”