Kenny’s story: Paying it forward, 15 years post-heart transplant

Kenny family portraitHow many people can say their employer once helped save their life?

Kenny Laferriere has been working for the New England Organ Bank for eight years, and in January 2016, he will celebrate the 15th anniversary of his heart transplant at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Kenny says he was drawn to a career that would allow him to give back. “I do a lot of talks at the Organ Bank for new hire orientation to give people some perspective on why we’re here. I’m living proof transplantation works; it saved my life and allowed me to be with my family. Eventually, it allowed me to create new life and start a family of my own.” (Kenny has a four-year-old son, Kameron, and another son on the way).

Kenny emphasizes the ripple effect of every transplant; it doesn’t save just one life — it touches many others.

Kenny’s story began long before his doctors were at all concerned about heart failure. When he was 9, Kenny was diagnosed with liver cancer and had surgery to remove the tumor. Unfortunately, the chemotherapy and radiation used to treat his cancer caused lasting damage to his heart. Kenny was a teenager when he started to feel the effects. He was suddenly tired all of the time and felt winded going up a flight of stairs.

His doctors first suspected pneumonia, but when the results of an echocardiogram (an ultrasound of the heart) came back, they realized the problem was much more serious.

The left side of Kenny’s heart was not pumping properly; there was not enough oxygen-rich blood being circulated throughout his body. His heart was failing.

A path to healing

After his heart failure diagnosis, Kenny was referred to the Boston Children’s Hospital Heart Transplant program. The first person he met was nurse practitioner Heather Bastardi. “I remember how kind and welcoming she was under those severe circumstances,” he says. “It felt very comforting.”

Kenny and his family thought he would be able to recover with a medication regimen.

However, it wasn’t long before his primary cardiologist, Dr. Betsy Blume, told him that he would need a heart transplant to survive. “That was hard to digest,” Kenny recalls, “But I didn’t have too much time to process it, because then I got very sick very fast.”

Kenny had a ventricular assist device (VAD) implanted at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (today, Boston Children’s has its own VAD program; at the time, patients were referred to Brigham). The device took some of the burden of pumping blood off of his heart and helped him gain some strength back, but Kenny was still living in limbo — when would a heart become available? He was anxious for a new beginning.

When he finally got the call that a heart was ready for him, in early morning hours of January 21, 2001, he was exhilarated — but also very humbled. “As I hung up the phone, I took a moment to sit on the edge of the bed, thinking about what the day would bring for me and my life. I quickly realized at this very moment there was a family losing a loved one, so I took some time to think of them and recognize the sacrifice they were making at the same time my family was celebrating.”

Gratitude and giving back

Kenny’s transplant was a success, and he continued to receive care at Boston Children’s until he aged out of the program and transferred once again to Brigham and Women’s. He still visits his clinical team at the Heart Center, however, as often as he can.

Kenny started volunteering at the New England Organ bank while he was in college and has worked there since graduation. He values the ability to give back and to make a difference in people’s lives; one day he hopes to become more involved as a liaison between hospitals and families.

As I hung up the phone, I took a moment to sit on the edge of the bed, thinking about what the day would bring for me and my life. I quickly realized at this very moment there was a family losing a loved one, so I took some time to think of them and recognize the sacrifice they were making at the same time my family was celebrating.

When Kameron is old enough to understand, Kenny says he will tell him the story of getting a new heart.

“I hope I’ll be able to instill in him a value for life and how important it is to spend time with family and celebrate all of life’s occasions and moments. I want him to appreciate how precious life is. It behooves us all to enjoy every moment and not take things for granted.”

Kenny family and BB HH #2
Left to right: Kenny’s mother, Robin Laferriere; nurse Heather Bastardi; Dr. Betsy Blume; and Kenny with his son, Kameron

Learn more about the Heart Transplant Program