McHENRY – Darrick Rosinski has cried three times in his life: the day he married his bride, and twice more when each of his children were born.
Jan. 9 marked a fourth.
It was day 100. Rosinski had been living at the Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic after being diagnosed with severe pulmonary hypertension nearly a year earlier.
The 57-year-old's heart was failing. He needed round-the-clock care. He needed a heart and lung transplant.
Too sick to return to his McHenry home, Rosinski was admitted to the hospital in October 2013, where he waited for the vital organs. Each new day now marked as measurable milestone.
Day 10. Day 25. Day 75.
"I describe it as being on a sailboat with no wind. You can't go forward, you can't go back," Rosinski said. "Every single day you're waiting for this phone call. But in the back of my mind, I thought, 'if I do get the phone call, that means somebody had to do die for me to get their organs.' "
Jan. 9, the phone rang. A new heart to pump his blood, new lungs for breathing life, would soon be his.
He called his wife in McHenry.
"He was crying and said, 'I got the gift, hun,' " Linda Rosinski said. Even a month later, she still tears up. "It was an emotional roller coaster. We were then worrying about him making it though the surgery. You don't know if the organs are good."
So far, they are, though doctors are monitoring him closely as he recovers at Mayo Clinic.
"I'm loving a man with a new heart," she said. "I loved his old heart, now I love his new one."
The United Network for Organ Sharing says that heart and lung transplants are extremely rare. According to up-to-the-minute UNOS data, there are 121,130 candidates waiting on organs. Of those, only 48 were waiting for heart and lung.
Last year, surgeons performed 26,514 organ transplants, according to UNOS data. Eighteen people die each day waiting on the list.
Friday, Feb. 14, also marks National Donor Day to celebrate those who've donated organs, and encourage others to become donors.
Before his diagnosis, Darrick Rosinski was a healthy and active nonsmoker. A husband, Father. Grandfather.
Just one month before diagnosis, he was hiking in Glacier National Park with Linda. But something was off. He felt shortness of breath. Fatigued. Later came a stinging pain in his side.
At first, doctors were puzzled, too. But according to Dr. Irina Staicu from Barrington Cardiology, that's the problem with pulmonary hypertension. It's often under recognized and under diagnosed. It can be hard, if not impossible, to diagnose before it's too late, she said.
Doctors conducted a battery of tests on Darrick. An echocardiogram eventually found the enlarged heart. Dr. Staicu told him to go to Mayo Clinic. Now.
"In his case, his pulmonary hypertension was severe enough to completely cause heart failure," Dr. Staicu said. "This is why he needed a heart and lung transplant. For him the progression was – boom – very, very dramatic."
Since his surgery on Jan. 10, Darrick has had his ups and downs, and battled infections common in those who underwent a heart and lung transplant. All in all, he is looking forward to a full recovery and getting back on hiking trail with his wife.
He talked to the Northwest Herald on Day 131. Just one month after his transplant surgery, and his first solid foods post-surgery – lasagna and pears washed down with orange juice.
Darrick knows little about the person whose heart and lungs are in his chest, but he's already writing a letter to his or her family.
"First, my letter will say it's a brave decision to have your loved one donate their organs," he said. "In the midst of your tragedy, you're thinking about others. You're actually extending somebody else's life. I don't know a greater gift that somebody could give than that."
Not Just Valentine's Day
Friday, Feb. 14 is National Donor day to recognize those who have donated organs and encourage others to become an organ donor.
By the Numbers
Waiting list candidates
All organs: 121,130*
*All candidates will be less than the sum due to candidates waiting for multiple organs.
Source: United Network of Organ Sharing