CHICAGO (WLS) -- Northwestern Memorial Hospital doctors have completed a record 54 heart transplants so far this year, and a celebration was held Monday for transplant recipients and families expressed gratitude for the donors who saved their lives.
Nationwide, at least 5,000 people are on the waiting list for a heart and just 60 percent of them are getting the life-saving surgery.
"I would like to take a moment of silence in memory of our donors and their families
I want a moment of silence for those not here," said Dr. Duc Pham, a cardiac surgeon.
Transplant recipients attending the event included United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz.
"We have thousands of emails from around the world where people have heard my story. When you feel something, act, call someone call 911 immediately. Tell them where you are because you may not make it past the phone call," Munoz said.
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Northwestern surgeons saved Munoz and the others, assisted by a team of cardiac transplant team members including nurses, technicians and physiotherapists, many of whom spent long hours in operating rooms.
Surgeries are up due to the availability of more donor organs, doctors said.
"I think there are more organs available to us with some adjustments in the listing system and we are just happy we are able to provide care to the patients," said Dr. Allan Anderson.
Ralph Neuti just got a new heart in September.
"I have seen all these other issues I have had, the doctor comes in and makes you sign these forms so I said, 'Go for it. And I said if something happens I ain't gonna know about it anyway," Neuti said.
At Northwestern, for the previous two and a half years, the one-year survival rate was 93.5 percent, based on a preliminary analysis by the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients. The hospital said that is "in line with high-quality, experienced programs."
Anthony De Leon, 10, whose father received a new heart this summer, said Monday he is glad his dad is around.
"He watches the Bears game and he wrestles with me sometimes," Anthony said.
His father, Juan De Leon, wasn't able to wrestle with his son, much less do anything else, when his enlarged heart took away his quality of life in 2017. After a series of inaccurate diagnoses at other hospitals, the utility worker who couldn't catch his breath sought treatment at Northwestern Hospital.
"The next day, I wake up and I feel great. I remember the first thing that I was worried about was whether I would notice a difference and the first thing I did was take a deep breath - and it is priceless you know. Oh my God, I feel the difference," De Leon said.
Northwestern Memorial Hospital sets record with 54 heart transplants in 2018