A Rochester Weatherman has gotten a second chance at life and he's going to live it.
WHAM Weather Anchor Scott Hetsko was all but dead. Hetsko's heart was in arrest for over two minutes until medical staff in the cardiac unit at the University of Rochester Medical Center could revive him.
"They were waiting and waiting and CPR-ing and all that, and they woke me up with a 'zap' and I made it back," he says. "For me, it was like going to bed. I woke up and my chest was on fire because they shocked me."
The popular Weatherman underwent a heart transplant and he is looking at life with an awesome attitude.
Hetsko, now 46, had cardiac sarcoidosis — a rare autoimmune disease in which the body attacks itself. The cause is unknown. Inflammatory cells invade the heart, destroying the organ's muscle tissue. The fibrous tissue that replaces the muscle tissue doesn't contract very well, and the heart becomes electrically unstable.
The combination puts the sufferer at risk of sudden death. In Hetsko's case, the risk was moderately high, says Dr. Leway Chen, UR Medicine transplant cardiologist.
Hetsko kept his battle to himself for the most part, which is not easy to do when you're a popular public figure and well-meaning people feel entitled to share in even the most intimate details of your life. Publicly, all Hetsko said was that he was dealing with a health problem and had to step away from work for an undetermined amount of time.
Doctors were able to find a donor and Hetsko is now living with another man's heart.
He spoke to the Rochester City Paper and it shows how this ordeal has changed him.
CITY: When did things start going wrong with your heart?
Hetsko: It was March 12, 2009. You tend to remember the dates when this stuff happens.
I got really sick in February of that year. Couldn't really do a whole lot: couldn't walk, couldn't move without feeling really tired and short of breath. When your heart enlarges, it can't squeeze and pump. It's like you're in your own human prison.
I had to go to the hospital, and that night I was told I needed a pacemaker. I didn't know what the hell a pacemaker did. So the next morning, I had a pacemaker installed.
The first doctor told me to consider getting my affairs in order, which really scared the hell out of me.
Basically, what I was told was, "We don't know exactly what happened, but we think it's sarcoid, because we saw it in your lungs. And we don't think it's worth it to do a biopsy on your heart at this point. And you're probably going to need a heart transplant someday. And we think it's going to be nine months."
It messes you up in every mental way it can. You learn to live with it. I lived pretty well for about four, five years with the condition. I never felt good a day in my life, but I could go on. Even with the pacemaker, you can't do so much.
The pacemaker did its job, but the heart over time just got sicker and sicker, and you just can't stop that without doing something invasive.
And they basically said, "You're not going to make it through the summer if you don't come in."
Were you confident that you would get a heart?
It's hard to get a heart. Out of the 100 percent of people who need a heart, only about 34 percent get one. So, 66 percent don't make it.
I came in with the information that I was the only guy waiting who was my body type — so I was, like, the top of the list for a guy like me. Because it's a competition. If there's another guy like me who's been there before me, he gets the heart first.
What was your reaction when you found out that a heart was available?
I said, "You're fucking kidding me." That's exactly what I said. And then I cried.
CITY: What do you know about your donor? Do you know how he died?
I do, but I don't talk about it.
I know he was a young guy, in his mid-20's. He was an Army vet. He always wanted to be a donor, if anything ever happened to him. He was a good man; always cared about honor. People thought of him in an honorable way.
I've met his parents and all his siblings now. It's not like you see on the news, when you jump into the arms and cry. We didn't have that moment; we don't know each other.
It was a moment of gratitude for me and my wife. And it was a moment of caution because you're meeting somebody under the worst circumstance, for them.
I didn't want anybody to die. But someone has to die for you to get a heart. That's the bottom line.
And that person was 20 years younger than me, had his whole life ahead of him, had people who loved him, had a girlfriend. So he had his life.
And for that to happen was devastating. And for me to benefit from it is guilt-wrenching in many ways.
What has the community's reaction been like?
Oh, my God — an outpouring of support. I didn't want it to be this "Ferris Bueller" thing: y'know, "Save Ferris" billboards.
Everybody knew I had heart problems, but when it got to the point that I had to go in, I didn't tell anybody why, publicly. It's a tough thing to straddle, your "celebrity" with the fact that you want to be private about something that's special to you and your family. Plus, it's not fair to my kids and to my wife to put them through all that.
When I got home and it was announced, I had, I'd say, at least 800 cards. Some people put money in. I'm like, "Don't give me your money." Just the outpouring is humbling, and you'll never be able to repay people for that.
CITY: Will you eventually need another transplant?
People CAN get a second transplant.
A lot of people die from other illnesses that are associated with the drugs that you take so you don't reject. Kidney failure, liver failure, cancer — all these things are possible with someone who's on the medication I'm on.
A kidney transplant could be in my future; leukemia; who the hell knows?
The best news about heart transplants is that people live longer with them now than they did 20 years ago, 30 years ago. So I'm in a great time.
Maybe in a decade the doctor says, "Hey, we're going to 3D-print you a heart." Maybe I do get another transplant when I'm 63. I'd definitely be willing to give it a shot.
I run 5K's now. I feel great. I feel like a new man.
A lot of people try to look at you with sympathy, [he whispers] "How are you feeling?" And I go, "Don't do that, because I'm great!" My Number 1 objective is to say, "Hey, this is awesome! What a great second chance I've got! Come on, look at me!"
All I know is that Shawn's heart is living in me, and it's great, and I'm just very grateful for the fact that I'm here.