KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- More than 100 heart transplant patients gave thanks Wednesday at Saint Luke's Hospital for another chance at life. For one Kansas City, Kan., man his gratitude is multiplied three times.
Doctors in the hospital's Heart Institute have performed nearly 570 heart transplants total. Number 61 in 1991, was Ray Gabel.
"The workouts are going great. This is more, this is me," Gabel said to another person asking him how he was doing.
Gabel has been through a few operations. In fact, he'll tell you he was born several times at Saint Luke's.
"I've been born here three times, literally with being born at this hospital, then having two heart transplants," he said.
Gabel is among the 150 other heart transplant patients and their families inside this hospital cafeteria, celebrating each other's recovery and the staff and doctors who helped give them another chance.
"What you're seeing the vibrance behind me going on -- a lot of these folks are back to work," he said. "The ones that are older and retired, they're out travelling doing something. It's no longer something just to get you by, but it's to get you back into life and have that zest for life."
Dr. Anthony Magalski, a hospital cardiologist, said the gathering was a great place to see the recovery the patients are going through.
"Some of the stories are incredible, even after their transplant," Magalski said. "They may take a long time to recover and then they come here and they walk in here and we don't recognize them."
At 23, Gabel said he learned he had Idiopathic Cardiomyopathy, a virus that attacks the heart muscles. For the avid sportsman, it was devastating.
"I had about a seven-month wait, and literally life as you know it is on hold," he said.
But he got his heart and it worked for 21 years. Gabel said it allowed him to see his two daughters grow up and get back to his love of sports.
Gabel said he was forced back on the operating table in January when he had to get a second heart transplant. So while he enjoys his third chance at life, he knows there are more lives to celebrate than just his.
"We're celebrating ours, with the gift we've been given and then our donor family and honoring them, and if that doesn't humblize you then I don't know what will," he said.
Magalski said the hospital has come a long way since the first transplant. He said they now have blood test that can monitor for rejection, instead of performing repeated biopsies.
Magalski also said the hospital is on track to do more heart transplants this year than ever. He said they've already performed 45 transplants, surpassing the previous high of 43. That makes them one of the top 10 hospitals in the country for the number of transplants. The hospital said seven patients are still waiting for transplants.
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