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Off Central: Phoenix firefighter grateful after lifesaving heart transplant

(Donor Network of Arizona)

PHOENIX — Dave Wipprecht, a 41-year-old firefighter with tattoos who stands over six-feet-tall. He’s a motorcycle lover, a loving husband and is helping raise his infant grandchild.

He has also received a heart transplant.

Before June 2014, he never imagined it happening to him.

“It was an infection that went to my bloodstream and attacked my heart,” Wipprecht said.

He began having trouble breathing. Eventually, an echocardiogram revealed his heart was four times the normal size and working at 10 percent capacity.

After emergency surgery to remove blood clots in his legs, Wipprecht said he settled into a bed at the Mayo Clinic Hospital to await a new heart.

His family and faith kept him going, especially his three young sons.

“They’d run upstairs to the fourth floor,” he remembered. “We’d hang out, draw, play games together. They held it together pretty good.”

That, he said, inspired him to keep a brave face.

The brave-face mask nearly shattered in June 2015, when Wipprecht’s doctor gave him worst-case scenario news.

“Dr. Hardaway came in and said, ‘Dave, we depleted every medicine we can give you. We’re looking at about nine more days,'” Wipprecht said.

“On day eight, a heart came in.”

Nico Santos with the Donor Registry of Arizona said many potential recipients aren’t as fortunate as Wipprecht was.

“There’s more than 2,200 people just in our state alone,” he said. “Thirty-eight seconds is the average time it takes … to register as an organ, tissue and cornea donor.”

Wipprecht said he promised himself he’d never complain about being in traffic again, after watching it on the Loop 101 outside his hospital window.

“I had IVs in my neck, my legs,” he said. “The only exercise I got was walking to the hallway.”

He said he remembers smiling after waking up from the surgery to put in his new heart.

And now, three years after his transplant, the fire engineer said he’s more grateful than ever for life and a second chance to live it.

Although it’s been hard on some days, he said, he knows how fortunate he was. He also does his best not to judge others anymore – for example, looking down on others who aren’t as in good shape as he is.

“Everybody in that gym – whether they’re a bodybuilder or they’re trying to lose weight – everybody there is equal.”

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