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He was 4 days from being taken off the heart transplant list

“I looked at Annetta and I said, ‘Annetta, I give up.’ I said, ‘They said there's probably not a good chance of this happening.’ I give up."

NEW ORLEANS — The Louisiana Organ Procurement Agency says there are 2,000 people in the state waiting for a life-saving organ donation.

And on Valentine's Day, a man who never thought he'd need a new heart, is telling his story about why being a donor is so important. 

Health is always a priority for Mark Nelson. As a physician’s assistant, and soccer referee for 23 years, he eats well, and exercises, but one fall day in 2020 while training, something felt off.

“So I just said, ‘I guess I'm out of shape.’ Well a night or two later, I woke up in the middle of the night real short of breath,” said Mark Nelson, 64. 

Only in his early 60s, he thought he'd just need weeks on heart medication, but by January 2021, his hometown doctor in Opelousas, gave him difficult news. 

“He said, ‘There's nothing else I can do for you. I'm going to have to move you on to Ochsner.’”

Ochsner immediately put him on the heart transplant list. He never left the hospital. Tiny heart pumps were implanted to buy time. Then last February, he needed a major operation to put in a larger heart pump. That would mean being taken off of the transplant list.

“I looked at Annetta and I said, ‘Annetta, I give up.’  I said, ‘They said there's probably not a good chance of this happening.’ I give up. Tell them I'll have that other procedure tomorrow.” said Nelson.

“No. It was not an option. It was not an option. You know I mean you have to keep on fighting. We had those four days. We had, it takes one phone call. It takes a phone call,” his wife Annetta Nelson remembers telling Mark about not settling for the heart pump until the very last day. 

Two hours later, the doctor walked in his room.

“And she looked at us and said, ‘Mr. Nelson, we have a heart for you and it's a perfect match,” said Nelson. 

That was a year ago. Mark is back to his life with family, and has gotten to hold his first grandchild. He owes it all to a Florida family he hopes to meet one day, a family he says at their lowest time of loss did the most unselfish act for a stranger.  

“I would love the chance for them to, they're alive right here, to feel the heartbeat, to feel the pulse, and let them know that I'm going to care for their loved one as much as they did,” Nelson said with his hand on his chest.

“Thousands of patients are waiting for an organ, and unfortunately there's this mismatch of supply and demand, and unfortunately we have much more patients that's waiting for an organ transplant,” said Dr. Selim Krim

A Transplant Cardiologist at Ochsner  and the Medical Director of the Cardiac Transplant Program.

Dr. Krim says they get healthy patients like Mark all the time, who have no risk factors like smoking, diabetes, or being overweight. They don't know the cause of Mark’s heart failure. Maybe it was caused by a virus long ago in the past. So the Valentine's message is this can happen to anyone, so you're needed to sign up to be an organ donor.

To find out how many organs have been donated in Louisiana, or to sign up as an organ donor and join the Louisiana Donor Registry. You may register online at the LOPA web site or call LOPA toll-free 1-800-521-4483. https://www.lopa.org/organ-donation

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