Heart transplant recipients reflect on journey

Heart transplant recipients meet for lunch at Oaks Grille in Valencia on Sunday. Samie Gebers/The Signal

What bonded the group of five men having lunch at Oaks Grille in Valencia on Sunday wasn’t their taste in food, but their hearts.

All five men have received heart transplants at Cedars-Sinai hospital, and it’s their struggles that connect them.

“We all know what everybody’s been through,” said Richard Aidem. “I met most of them when they were at their worst in the hospital.”

Aidem starting volunteering at the hospital after he received a heart transplant. He suffered from Becker’s muscular dystrophy, a disease that affected his heart and caused various problems including an irregular beat.

Almost three years ago, he finally got the much-needed organ. After the transplant, he wrote a letter to the family of his donor, a 20-year-old boy who committed suicide.

“The mother said that they received the letter the day before Thanksgiving and she read it at their Thanksgiving dinner,” Aidem said. “She said it was their best Thanksgiving ever.”

Bernice Friehling listens to her son’s heart beat in Richard Aidem’s chest. Courtesy photo

Because of the donation, Aidem was able to walk his daughter down the aisle during her wedding three months after the transplant.

“I would have missed it all if I didn’t have a donor,” he said.

Henri Lajer also experienced a strong connection with his donor’s family. After Lajer spent 14 months with an artificial heart, he finally received a heart from a 27-year-old man.

“The meeting with the family was emotional,” he said.  “They listened to my heart. They started to tell me what he was like.”

The family still keeps in touch with Lajer and have even met up on several occasions.

“Everybody should become a donor, it gives life to people,” Lajer said. “One person can change the life of so many people.”

From left to right, Henri Lajer, Richard Aidem, and Lance White, all heart transplant recipients, meet for lunch at Oaks Grille in Valencia on Sunday. Samie Gebers/The Signal

“I wasn’t a donor until this happened,” Lance White said at lunch. “You don’t worry about the things you’ve worried about before. You’re in a position where you want to give back.”

Victor Ramirez agrees with White that his reflection on life changed after the surgery.

Right before the transplant, Ramirez explained that he had a religious experience that changed his outlook forever.

“I was talking to God, asking for a second chance,” Ramirez said. “You see things in a different way, it made me value things more.

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