Ohio heart transplant recipient plans to meet donor’s mother

CLEVELAND - Two young daughters surprised on video by their father at home, can't stop their tears. Their dad, Kenneth Vogelsong, of Defiance, Ohio, spent eight years fighting a progressive heart disease. It's the same disease that killed his brother.

Vogelsong, 45, said he owes his life to a mother in Iowa, who amid her grief of losing a young son, helped give him a new life through organ donation. He plans to drive his family to Iowa on Friday to thank her in person.

"I owed her a big thank you and told her the sympathy we had for her loss," said Vogelsong via Skype. "It was tough knowing that somebody has to lose in order for me to gain."

Vogelsong said he does not know many details about his heart donor. It's one reason why he said he began communicating with the donor's mother through a series of letters following his heart transplant surgery in January 2018 at the Cleveland Clinic.

"He was very fortunate to be able to get his heart at the time that he did," said Dr. Maria Mountis, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic.

"Ken had a diagnosis called dilated familial cardiomyopathy. It's a fancy term for saying he had a very enlarged heart."

Dr. Mountis said Vogelsong was born with an abnormal gene that eventually caused his condition. It's one she warns many people do not realize they have. Her own father was a recipient of a heart transplant 18 years ago this month. She said it's something that helps her connect on a personal level with so many patients going through a painful and stressful time.

"I think there is always and it is with a lot of patients, still guilt of, 'My goodness, I'm older and I'm alive because of this individual's grateful donation,'" Dr. Mountis said.

"I still think about the donor and the family, and always pray for the family as well to say, 'Listen, I'm doing what I'm doing, kind of paying it forward,' to help individuals out of gratitude and respect, for the donor family that was able to donate...to my father."

Since the surgery, Vogelsong's health soared. He said he is looking forward to the emotional meeting with the woman who helped give him the gift of a healthy heart and more time at home with his girls.

"I did all I could to hold back the tears that day," Vogelsong said about surprising his daughters after his transplant. "It felt so good... to be able to see them after over 113 days of missing them, at home, it was just a great feeling."

According to Lifebanc, Vogelsong is one of nearly 1,170 Ohioans whose life was saved by organ donation in 2018. There are more than 3,000 people still waiting for an organ.

This year, 118 people died waiting for an organ. To learn how to register as an organ, eye and tissue donor visit www.lifebanc.org/morelife

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