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A person from West Newton who received a new heart was recognized at a ceremony for Donate Life Month

Darcy Franicola, a resident of Madison, regularly volunteers to assist at the Madison Volunteer Fire Company. She stays active in her church, tends to her garden, and was able to take a vacation to Myrtle Beach in 2021.

Darcy Franicola, who lives in Madison, volunteers for the Madison Volunteer Fire Company, is active at her church, takes care of her garden, and was able to go on vacation to Myrtle Beach in 2021.

Following several years of heart issues, including arrhythmia, she was able to stay busy, stay involved, and stay alive thanks to a heart transplant she received in 2019 at UPMC Presbyterian hospital.

Darcy, 54, was among the first heart recipients in Southwestern Pennsylvania to receive an organ from a donor with Hepatitis C. After the surgery, she took antiviral medications to prevent developing Hepatitis C.

Franicola was honored at a flag-raising ceremony at Independence Health System Latrobe Hospital as part of National Donate Life Month. Representatives from the Center For Organ Recovery & Education (CORE) spoke about the importance of signing up as an organ donor. Darcy and her sister, Carey, who works as a social worker at Latrobe Hospital, talked about their experience. During the ceremony, the importance of becoming an organ donor was highlighted by the Center For Organ Recovery & Education (CORE) and representatives from Independence.

Darcy encouraged others to educate themselves and consider becoming an organ or blood donor.

Transplants involving Hepatitis C hearts

According to Laura Cwynar, a manager at CORE, it has been possible to use hearts from Hepatitis C donors for just over ten years.

The recipient must approve receiving this type of organ. With the development of hepatitis oral medications, a patient without hepatitis can now accept a hepatitis organ.

Patients can undergo preventive treatment for several weeks, which prevents them from contracting the disease. Such organs function just as well as those from donors without hepatitis.

The practice of using organs from donors with Hepatitis C has become more common since healthcare communities gained access to these medications. This applies to all organs, such as livers, kidneys, and lungs.

Darcy decided to accept a Hepatitis C heart after seeing a TV story about Jerome Eidemiller, another Hepatitis-C organ recipient.

Jerome Eidemiller was the first Hepatitis C heart transplant recipient at UPMC, and he received his new heart just two weeks after agreeing to accept a Hepatitis C heart.

He and his family lived on a farm in Oil City, and aspects of his farm life felt familiar to Darcy, who also grew up in a farm family. It felt like a sign.

Darcy believed it was a sign from her late mother to have faith in science and research.

Similar to Eidemiller, Darcy received her heart transplant very quickly, just two weeks after agreeing to accept it. She even met Eidemiller later during a doctor's appointment.

The availability of Hepatitis C hearts helps reduce the number of deaths on the organ transplant waitlist, according to Laura Cwynar. In Pennsylvania, about 7,000 people are currently waiting for an organ transplant, as stated by CORE.

“According to her, there are still 18 people dying every day while waiting for transplants on a national level,” she explained.

Life post the organ replacement surgery

One year following the transplant, the Franicolas attempted to make contact with the donor family of Darcy, but the family declined to communicate with them, Carey mentioned, and they are honoring the family’s decision. They are not well-informed about the donor except for the fact that she was a young woman similar to Darcy in terms of stature.

“We will always be thankful and appreciative toward her donor and family,” Carey expressed. “In the last five years, there hasn’t been a single day where Darcy hasn't thought about her donor and family.”

Dr. Daniel Medic, a retired physician who was Darcy’s main healthcare provider, was deeply moved during the event on Friday upon seeing his patient flourishing years after her transplant.

“You just go through the routine and take the tests, and you never expect that to happen — being a recipient of a heart transplant,” Medic remarked. “I haven’t seen Darcy for a while, so it’s really nice to see her here today.”

Maryann Singley, head nurse at Latrobe Hospital, mentioned that even though Independence hospitals do not perform organ transplants, the hospital system collaborates with CORE to retrieve organs from donors who pass away at Independence hospitals.

“There is a lot of sorrow on one side, but there is also a lot of happiness on the other. It’s very bittersweet,” Singley commented on organ donation. “No one wants to think about being an organ donor. But considering the other side of it, and having a meaningful discussion with your parents, family, and friends, is truly crucial.

“So many lives have been saved or improved or given a fresh start simply due to the selflessness of someone saying ‘I’m going to be an organ donor.’”

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