Joe Sierra news feature in QC Times

This article can be found in Tuesday, August 31, 2010 edition of the Quad City Times, or on-line here

Joe Sierra gobbled handfuls of pills to keep his heart going until he got a new one in 1994. Nearly 16 years later, that transplanted heart gave out.

Sierra, 63, an organ donor advocate and “community guy” and “church guy” as described by his brother, Gil Sierra, died Monday at Alexian Brothers Medical Center, Elk Grove, Ill. He was 63.

“I want to show people what transplantation can do because you never know what’s going to happen,” Joe Sierra told the Quad-City Times in a 2003 interview. “When people actually meet someone who’s had a transplant, it makes them feel so much better. They can put a face and a person to it.”

Gil Sierra said his brother was the longest-surviving heart transplant recipient in Illinois, a fact that couldn’t be confirmed.

According to the American Heart Association, the survival rate of heart transplant recipients after 10 years ranges from 61 percent to

49 percent, depending on what type of heart disease the recipient has.

The tale of Joe’s transplant started three years before his own. In 1991, Sierra’s daughter, Dawn, went into premature labor and died.

The baby girl, born by Cesarean section, was brain dead, but Joe and his wife, NaDeen decided to donate their granddaughter’s organs. The newborn’s heart was harvested and went to a 2-year-old girl who survived for nine days.

A few months later, the medication Sierra took for the previous six years for a viral infection in his heart stopped working. He, too, needed a heart transplant. Tested and evaluated, he lost 40 pounds and was placed on the transplant list.

He became an ambassador for Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network, a nonprofit organization that helps find organs and tissue for hospitals and families in Illinois and Indiana. He was taking 53 pills a day.

On Dec. 8, 1994, after waiting for three and a half years, Sierra got the call. A heart had been found. Flown to Chicago by helicopter, he got a new heart.

“He was a real promoter for organ donors,” Gil Sierra said. “He is testimony that people do donate and that you leave a legacy for leaving your organs for someone else to have another life.”

That Joe Sierra lived for

15 years with a transplanted heart is fairly rare, according to the American Heart Association.

Joe Sierra was employed at Alcoa had been active in the community and in his church, his brother said. He is survived by his wife, Nadeen, and daughter, Heather.

Posted in Local on Tuesday, August 31, 2010 9:23 am | Tags:

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