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Kim Lombardi's Story

Kim Lombardi shouldn't be alive to read this. Doctors told him many times there was no hope. If his failing heart didn't kill him, the aneurysm ballooning from his ascending aorta would soon burst and that, certainly, would put him in a grave.

Lombardi didn't listen. Like a soldier who faced impossible odds but still had one bullet left in his pistol, he refused to surrender.

On Aug.18, 2006, Lombardi underwent a heart transplant at Nebraska Medicine. Today, he has his life back and loves to tell his story of faith and perseverance.

"Is my life different? Sure it is," he said. "I'm a diabetic induced by the medication, but after what I've been through, I can deal with that. I've got a new heart. I feel like I'm 30 years old."

Lombardi suffered his first heart attack in 1994. He had been laid off after 18 years at his job. His first marriage was coming to an end. Then, his 16-year-old son was killed in an auto accident. He smoked. He didn't exercise. He ate all the wrong foods. He slept three or four hours a night.

"It was my lifestyle," he said. "They say if you live in the fast lane, you get to the end quicker. They're right."

His second heart attack came a year later, followed by double-bypass surgery. He had another heart attack in 1997, and repairs were made using angioplasty. In June 2002, he suffered a massive heart attack that severely damaged his left ventricle.

"Really, up to that point, life had been fine," he said. "But from 2002 until I got the transplant, things just kept getting worse." At that time, Nebraska Medicine wasn't performing heart transplants. The program had been suspended in 1999 when the chief surgeon died in an auto accident.

Lombardi's cardiologist suggested he contact a widely recognized clinic out of state. He did - and that's when the aneurysm was discovered. At seven centimeters and growing, Lombardi and his wife, Jennifer, whom he married six years ago, were told the aneurysm was well past the critical stage.

"They said, 'Go home and write your obituary. There's nothing anyone can do for you.' We begged (them) to do the surgery. We said, 'If you give us a 10 percent chance of survival, we'll take it.' The surgeon got kind of angry with us and said, 'No. I'm not performing a warm autopsy on you.'"

After returning to Omaha, the couple sent Lombardi's medical records to clinics across the country. Some gave the same reply they'd already heard. Some didn't reply at all.

They visited a general practitioner who suggested a cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon. That visit, in turn, led them to Mohammad Quader, MD, lead transplant surgeon and director of Heart Transplantation and Ventricular Assist Device Therapy at Nebraska Medicine that had resumed its heart transplant program in 2005.

The couple met with Dr. Quader and Ioana Dumitru, MD, transplant cardiologist and medical director of the Heart Failure and Cardiac Transplant Program at Nebraska Medicine. By that time, the aneurysm had grown to eight centimeters. The two doctors gave Lombardi a "30 percent chance or less" and put his name on the list of patients awaiting a donor heart.

Seven days later, Lombardi got the call. He underwent transplant surgery and says he feels better today than he has in quite a long time. "My energy came back right after the transplant."

His experience underscores the value of organ donation. "My son died at 16 and I wonder, why didn't I donate his organs? He was a healthy kid. Now, 12 years later, I have been given the heart of somebody else's son. I don't know all their circumstances, but I know how they must feel."

Lombardi says he has advice to share with cardiac patients and healthy people alike. "First, you have to take care of yourself," he said. "Don't do the things I did or you're just asking for it.

"Second, don't give up. You may run into walls and people will tell you there's no hope, but somewhere there's an answer. When your heart is failing, you're so tired all the time, so weak that you want to give up the fight, like maybe death is the answer. But it isn't.

"No matter what happens, you can't give up hope."

Kim Lombardi is living proof.

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