In October 1990, a seemingly terminal heart condition left Jo Anne Pavlic feeling hopeless and faced with her mortality.
In October 1990, a seemingly terminal heart condition left Jo Anne Pavlic feeling hopeless and faced with her mortality.Today, the Pickerington woman won't disclose her age, but she's pleased to talk about her life 19 years after a Feb. 23, 1991 heart transplant.
She shares a love of her two dogs and the arts with her husband, Chet, displays her oil paintings at Butch's Italian Caf on Gender Road in Canal Winchester and relishes time she once thought she'd never spend with sons Mike, Rocco and Tony Sabatino, five grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and her dear friend, Ardeth Frizzell.
"I write to my donor family now," Pavlic said. "I don't know their last name and they don't know mine, but I know my donor was a young child who was in a car accident in Cleveland, Ohio. "Sue, the boy's mother, asked me to keep writing and it's been very rewarding.
The most rewarding or gratifying thing a person can do today is be a donor." In 1963, the U.S. Congress designated February as American Heart Month, and urged Americans to join the battle against cardiovascular diseases, the nation's No. 1 killer.
According to Lifeline of Ohio, the national waiting list for organ transplants is rising at an alarming rate, with 105,691 individuals currently on the list.
"Approximately 18 times each day, a man, woman or child dies while waiting for an organ transplant," said Rachel Lewis, community outreach coordinator for Lifeline of Ohio.
"Once every 48 hours, an Ohioan dies waiting. In the last 10 years, more than 2,000 Ohioans have died waiting for a transplant."
In Pavlic's case, idiopathic cardiomyopathy, a weakening of the heart muscles, threatened her life. It's believed a family history of enlarged hearts might have caused or contributed to her life-threatening condition. She discovered she had the problem while living in Delaware, Ohio, working as a general sales manager if WBBY-FM.
At the time, she was hoping to establish a new radio station there, but increasingly was plagued by shortness of breath, nighttime coughing and fatigue.
After a Delaware County physician and friend diagnosed her with idiopathic cardiomyopathy, Pavlic was referred to The Ohio State University Medical Center. Later tests showed a heart transplant was needed to keep her alive. "That's something you never forget," she said. Four months passed - a relatively short time for people awaiting heart transplants - before a donor was found.
"The phone rang and I can't tell you how you feel when you're in this position because, first of all when I got the diagnosis, there was no hope," she said. "I'd been told I wouldn't survive. "When the phone rang, it was my coordinator that said, 'Are you ready?' We think we've got a match.' It's the most hope I'd ever been given."
It was a whirlwind hospital visit, which helped ease stress because there wasn't time to mull prospects, Pavlic said.
The transplant surgery took approximately eight hours. After that, her family got the best news possible for the relatively new procedure.
"They came down and told them, 'The heart is beating,'" she said.
Pavlic never envisioned celebrating her 19th anniversary with a transplanted heart. She said she still lives life one day at a time. Since the surgery, she said she's become more spiritual and developed routines and practices for being patient, warding off anger, getting exercise and taking medication.
"They just told me I'd be lucky to make it two years," she said. "After two years, they said they didn't know what I was doing, but I should keep it up. "Then they said, 'Let's go for five years.' Once you make five, even today, you have a pretty good chance."
She has also gained a deep appreciation for family and eagerly anticipates her daily chats with granddaughter Lori Ann Sabatino, daughter of Mike, a former Pickerington city councilman.
"She either sees me or calls me every day," Pavlic said. "She's just wonderful. "It's very important. It's something I look forward to every day and it's just a delight to know I have her."
Pavlic credited her husband and Frizzell, a longtime friend, for sticking by her through the past 19 years and keeping her upbeat.
"Once a year, I get an annual heart biopsy and different things like stress tests," she said.
"If you're doing well, that's the only time you have to go to the hospital, and if you keep a positive attitude and enjoy life, you're going to do well."
Additionally, Pavlic talks with people in need of heart transplants or who have had them to help them through the process.
She does so, primarily, because there weren't many people who walked that path at the time she embarked upon her journey.
"Make yourself better and rise above," she said.
"Also, be an organ donor."
According to Lifeline of Ohio, 305 Ohioans donated at the time of their deaths in 2008, allowing 886 individuals to receive a second chance at life through transplants. Additionally 1,835 Ohioans gave improved quality of life to others through tissue donations.
"In Ohio, more than 2,900 people - 500 in central Ohio - are waiting for an organ transplant at any time, and hundreds more await tissue transplants," Lewis said. "A single donor potentially can save the lives of eight people and enhance the lives of up to 50 more by donating vital organs and tissue."
Lewis said that as of July 1, 2005, Ohioans can become donors by registering online in the Ohio Donor Registry at www.lifelineofohio.org.
In addition, individuals may indicate their intentions when renewing their drivers' licenses, or by completing a Donor Registry Enrollment Form available online through the Lifeline of Ohio Web site.
"People are encouraged to discuss these wishes with their family, so their next of kin are aware of the decision at the time of their death," Lewis said. "Fulfilling a loved one's wish to donate is one of the most helpful steps a grieving family can take to deal with its loss."