Michigan man now able to spend more time with family after heart transplant surgery at St. Luke’s

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Sometimes the best holiday gifts aren't found under the tree. One man is grateful to be alive, thanks to the gift of a life-saving heart transplant.

Gary Pitsch has had a lot of doctor visits the past 13 years after learning he has heart disease.

"I went in for a physical and my heart was in a-fib. It wasn't in normal rhythm," Pitsch said.

He had genetic testing done and learned his condition was passed down from his dad, who died of heart failure.

Ever since, Gary's been managing his heart health with medications. But the pills eventually quit working, and he needed surgery. While under the knife, things got scary.

"My heart stopped. I was put to sleep so I didn't know but they had to thump me back to life, and when I woke up they said, 'We can't do this. Your heart is on its last leg,'" Pitsch said.

It turns out the transplant network in his home state of Michigan was limited, and there weren't high-quality matches for him. So he did his homework and found St. Luke's and its Mid America Heart Institute.

"Don't just kind of rely on what people tell you. Do the research yourself like he did, and we're very glad he chose us because of our survival statistics," said Dr. Andrew Kao, St. Luke's MidAmerica Heart Institute Medical Director of Heart Transplant.

Pitsch was admitted to St. Luke's this month. His heart was barely pumping, and he worried he'd die waiting for a heart. But less than one day after learning there was an organ ready, he had heart transplant surgery.

"I feel grateful.  Wonderful Christmas gift," he said.

He's written a letter, thanking his anonymous donor and that person's family, for their selfless donation in their time of grief. And he's looking forward to more time with his wife, Karen, of 45 years, and watching their 16 grand-kids grow up.

"It's really a miracle of life," Kao said.

Gary will continue his post-op care here in Kansas City the next few weeks. He's got family coming to town for Christmas, where the joy of this holiday season is certainly taking on new meaning. He hopes to get back home to Michigan in January, where he'll continue medications to keep his new heart beating strong.

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