Doctors expected a new heart for longtime Amherst resident Greg Friedman within a week or two after his arrival in Florida.
That was in February.
Friedman, 58, who taught business and computer science for 20 years at the Lorain County JVS and EHOVE, has been on a transplant waiting list nine years now — and believes his time is growing short.
“This sounds strange but I get my hopes highest on holiday weekends because there are more people on the road. It sounds morbid but on rainy days there are a lot of bikes on the road… a lot of donors are motorcycle riders,” he said.
“Rainy days you get excited that you might get the call. A heart might finally be available. I know that somebody has to die for me to go on living and that’s a hard thing to live with.”
After a massive heart attack in 1996 at age 38, Friedman made it 10 years without major problems by swallowing about 40 pills each day. He’s also endured 200 episodes where heart problems have caused him to lose consciousness.
Those have become much less frequent since having a defibrillator implanted.
We talked to Friedman about his prognosis Thursday by phone and learned that in the past six months he’s shed 35 pounds.
The change is a way to become eligible for more hearts since there are strict rules about matching donors with recipients. At his new weight, Friedman could use the heart of a person as small as 160 pounds.
That is, as long as the donor has the right blood type.
Friedman has type O negative blood. Only six percent of the U.S. population is a match.
It is possible but not optimal that he could accept a heart from a type O positive donor.
Which brings us to why Friedman is in Florida — because of the way donor regions are set up, his chances of finding a donor are much greater in the Sunshine State. Here at home in Ohio, he would be on a transplant list along with people from a tri-state area, while Florida has its own list.
Adding to the frustration is that Friedman’s illness qualifies him as a “status two” patient, not at the top of the list.
In Ohio, it’s virtually impossible for a status two patient to get a heart.
“We don’t know if I’ll make it until I become a status one patient,” Friedman said. “Ironically, you have to be in such bad shape to get a transplant that you might not make it through the transplant.”
While in Florida, he’s twice received calls urging him to rush to the hospital after an organ donor’s death. Both times, surgeons at the last second determined the donor heart was not viable.
The up-and-down wait has been devastating: “I have to remember there are a lot of people supporting me, a lot of people praying for me daily,” he said.
After months off of work, his wife, Becky Friedman, has flown back to Ohio where she is employed as a fourth grade teacher at the Avon Schools. Friedman said he’s frustrated to be without her, but also to miss time with his infant granddaughter.
There’s also the issue of mounting bills, both medical and logistical.
Living in Florida is not cheap, especially without knowing how long the stay will be. Friedman said lodging to date has cost some $20,000.
A fellow graduate of the Kent Roosevelt High School Class of 1975 — a man Friedman said he barely knew in his youth — anonymous donated a significant portion toward his costs. When he learned of it, the Amherst man said he broke down in tears.
“People are good. That’s all I can say. They are helping me and soon somebody’s going to be giving their loved one away to me,” Friedman said.
His neighbor, Cindy Snyder, is also on Team Greg.
She’s planning an Aug. 27 benefit dinner from 5-8 p.m. at Arabica on Park Avenue in downtown Amherst. The menu includes pulled pork and chicken sandwiches (there will be a carryout option) and there will be basket raffles as well.
All proceeds will go to Friedman.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
Becky and Greg Friedman are waiting to find an organ donor. Greg is in Florida, where he believes his chances of receiving a new heart are much higher.