Darrin Reasby always loved to bake, but it wasn’t until he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure that he was able to turn his passion into a business.

Darrin, 49 at the time, came to Froedtert Hospital in November 2015. He worked with a group of specialists in the Comprehensive Heart Failure and Transplant Program, including advanced heart failure cardiologists, cardiac surgeons and a full team of supporting medical professionals. They tried medication to improve his heart’s pumping ability, but Darrin’s heart continued to weaken.

Hank Sibbing, heart transplant patient“I went from being healthy and playing basketball, to learning I needed a new heart. It was devastating,” Darrin said.

In March 2016, Darrin was placed on Wisconsin’s heart transplant list. Darrin’s team of doctors agreed that he would benefit from a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) to help his heart continue to pump while he waited for a donor heart. Ventricular assist devices are surgically implanted mechanical pumps. The pump connects to a control unit and battery pack worn outside the body. It can be used as a bridge to transplant — helping a patient survive months or years until a donor heart is available.

Before the implantation surgery, Darrin was nervous, but he knew he was in good hands.

“The doctors and the nurses made me feel as comfortable as possible,” he said.

In the 14 months that followed, Darrin spent a lot of time in the kitchen. Though his daily activities were limited by the LVAD, Darrin found that baking took his mind off of his condition.

“You can’t run, you can’t jump, because you have batteries strapped around your waist. You’re at the mercy of this device, trying to enjoy your day as best as you can. For me, that was baking,” he said.

In June 2017, a phone call from one of Darrin’s nurses changed everything.

“I immediately knew what that phone call was for. I was going to get a new heart,” Darrin said.

The next day, Darrin came to Froedtert Hospital for his heart transplant. He was apprehensive of the surgery because he had grown accustomed to living with the LVAD, and liked that the device would signal him if something was wrong. But he was also excited at the potential of a more active lifestyle.

“I was happy, nervous, the whole nine yards,” Darrin said. “But I knew I was in good hands.”

The Comprehensive Heart Failure and Transplant Program offers expert diagnosis, treatment and follow-up care. A multidisciplinary team of specialists evaluates the donor heart to determine if it is a match for the patient.

“This is unique,” said David Joyce, MD, Darrin’s transplant surgeon. “In most other transplant programs, the decision about which organ to transplant and how to successfully arrive at that match is usually up to one person. Here, it is never fewer than six people, and often, many more than that.”

Darrin spent only 10 days in the hospital before he was cleared to return home, a near-record recovery time. Two weeks in the hospital is considered the gold standard for recovery.

“He is one of the strongest, most motivated patients we have come across, and from that perspective, he had everything going for him,” Dr. Joyce said.

Darrin was on his feet and cooking after two weeks at home. He sometimes struggles with side effects from his medications, but refuses to let that get in the way of enjoying his life with a healthy heart. He threw a party to celebrate his 51st birthday in September, won a local cooking competition (his strawberry crunch cheesecake stole the show) and is making plans to open a storefront in Milwaukee for his business “R U Kidding Me Bakery.” He said none of this would be possible without his Froedtert & MCW care team and his donor.

“At the end of the day I’m alive, and I feel grateful I get a chance to be here,” Darrin said.

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