Oxford resident Dave Yish was just 40 years old when he found himself sitting in a patient bed at Hartford Hospital, looking out the window at the state Capitol and wondering how long he had left.
Yish spent years in and out of his cardiologist’s office where he was told time and again that his heart was getting progressively weaker and that he needed a transplant to keep him alive. Yish was one of the lucky ones, and he got the priceless gift he needed: he got a new heart at Hartford Hospital on April 4, 2007.
“I received the greatest gift anyone could ever give another from someone who never knew me,” he said.
Fast forward five years to Wednesday, when Yish, now a healthy 45-year-old, was standing in front of state lawmakers at the Capitol Building in Hartford where he told his story. He testified before the Public Health Committee in favor of proposed House Bill No. 5333, an act concerning organ and tissue donation awareness. The bill would establish an advisory council on education of organ and tissue donation in Connecticut. This volunteer group would advise state officials on methods to increase organ and tissue donation rates in the state, according to a news release from Sen. Rob Kane’s office.
Yish, a former Oxford and a current local youth sports coach who is married and has two teenage children, is also the vice chairman of Donate Life Connecticut, a non-profit corporation dedicated to public education and awareness for all Connecticut residents concerning the lifesaving benefits of organ and tissue donation, and increasing the number of registered donors, according to the group’s website.
The organization is firmly behind the bill, which would also establish an organ and tissue awareness account that may receive funds from public and private sources - and maybe the federal government - for organ and tissue donation awareness materials and events; it will also help to maintain the state donor registry, the release from Kane's office states.
“In addition, we aim to alter motor vehicle registration forms to include a notice of an option to make a donation of $2 to the organ and tissue donation awareness account and allow for payment of such donation with a registration fee,” said Kane, R-Watertown, whose 32nd District includes Oxford.
In a separate news release from the House Democrats, Rep. James Alibis, D-East Haven, says the ultimate goal of the bill is to increase the number of registered organ donors in the state through heightened awareness.
“The more registered donors we have here in Connecticut, the more lives we will be able to save,” he said.
Yish was among several people statewide who shared gripping personal stories about organ donations on Wednesday.
Kari Mull, director of Donate Life Connecticut, said during a news conference that her sister gave life to others when her life ended tragically; Mull said that gives her great pride.
“This legislation will not only save lives of those people in need of a transplant, but give bereaved families the opportunity to save other families from similar grief,” she said.
And Seymour resident Jaime Rotatori, whose young son had a life-saving heart transplant, said without her son’s donor family, her family wouldn’t have been able to see their “miracle child” grow up, the release states.
Rotatori is quoted in the release as saying: “Aaron is now an active, healthy 6-year-old boy excelling in first grade and his favorite activity, karate!”
Without organ donation, Yish may not have been able to see his children grow up. He had congestive heart failure and a disease of the heart muscle called Cardiomyopathy, which is mostly an inherited disease, according to the Cardiomyopathy Association, which says that most people who are treated can lead long and healthy lives.
Yish explains that, in a nutshell, his heart was getting progressively weaker. He believes he inherited the gene for the disease from his father, who died of heart complications at age 50.
“I consider myself fortunate because I was able to benefit from a transplant whereas my father was not,” Dave Yish told Oxford Patch.
Since he had the transplant, Yish has had no complications; he takes his medicine daily and goes to regular checkups.
In the past five years, Yish has taken full advantage of his new lease on life. He frequently seems upbeat; he smiles and jokes with friends and family, he attends local government and sporting events and he genuinely seems to appreciate every day. He has served a term as a selectman, run unsuccessfully for first selectman this past year – he says he's proud of his campaign - and he's coached his son’s baseball team. Although he's out of politics, Yish still stays involved: on Wednesday night, he attended the selectmen meeting and asked the current board to consider asking Connecticut Light & Power to trim trees on his street, Moose Hill Road, because he told his neighbors he'd do so.
Most importantly, Yish has taken advantage of the opportunity to spend more time with his loving wife, Tracy, and his two now-teenage children, Emily, a college-bound senior at Oxford High School, and 14-year-old John. Because Dave Yish’s heart condition is hereditary, Emily and John get regular checkups as well. Dave Yish is happy to report they are doing well.
Yish says he also wants others in the state to be happy and healthy; he wants everyone to have the opportunity for a donation that he had.
He testified Wednesday that through the efforts of Donate Life Connecticut, its member organizations and the work of the Department of Motor Vehicles, the state has been able to increase the list of registered donors here to more than 1 million residents. That figure represents about 40 percent of the state’s adult population.
“It’s a great milestone, but (it) still puts Connecticut a few percentage points behind the national average,” he said, adding that both Kane and State Rep. David K. Labriola, R-Oxford, have been instrumental in helping him spread the word about organ and tissue donation at the state level; Labriola is actually a co-sponsor of the proposed house bill. “I know we can do better as a state than ‘almost average’ and it is critical on a few levels.”
Yish said that despite the dedication of many volunteers, 19 Americans die each day waiting for a life-saving transplant. That means, on average, a Connecticut resident on the transplant list dies every few days, Yish said.
He said both Hartford Hospital and Yale-New Haven Hospital possess the skill and know-how to save many more lives if organs become available.
“This is legislation that puts into place a panel where the state can join in, take a more active role, and bring all of us together who work hard to improve the odds for those who wait for a donor to give them a second chance at life…” Yish said. “…Much like my donor gave me.”
Kane's press release notes that April is National Donate Life month – a month where his office will bring awareness to this important issue and hopefully spur family conversations that could benefit others.
According to Donate For Life Connecticut, more than 8,000 deceased donors in the state have provided more than 22,000 organ transplants. In addition, there were nearly 7,000 transplants from living donors. There are approximately 30,000 tissue donors and 40,000 cornea donors annually, providing more than 1 million tissue and cornea transplants.
For more information on how you can help save a life, visit www.ctorganandtissuedonation.org.
- Source: Sen. Rob Kane’s office
Editor’s Note: See a full copy of Yish’s testimony attached to this article.