Doctor Kevin Anderson, a urologist who grew up in Novato and graduated from Novato High, spent years in the operating room, saving lives.
But in 2008, he was diagnosed with an extremely rare disease that quickly put him on the other end of the patient-doctor relationship.
Anderson had amyloidosis, a disease that occurs when substances called amyloid proteins invade the body, shutting down vital organs. In Anderson’s case it was his heart, making climbing stairs or even working difficult.
“I felt myself getting weaker and weaker,” Anderson said in a recent interview. “I would lean against table when doing an operation because it was so tiring to stand.”
He went to Stanford Hospital, renown for its organ transplants, but the facility did not want to perform a heart transplant on someone with amyloidosis, saying the success rate was too low to warrant such a procedure. Anderson turned to the prestigious Mayo Clinic, which convinced Stanford to perform the transplant, arguing that chances of a success were higher in California where more donors are registered.
Two weeks after joining the donor registry, Anderson received a call. A 32-year-old man had died near Reno, Nevada and a healthy heart was available. The operation made Anderson the first patient with amyloidosis to receive a heart transplant from Stanford Hospital.
“Getting a new heart is getting a new life,” Anderson said. “I felt it was just a magnificent gift and I felt like I could never repay that. I could only go back to work and help people.”
He is now doing so by being back in the operating room and with a new book titled “The Middle of Infinity” that chronicles his journey and lessons learned. He's also an ambassador for the California Transplant Donor Network.
On Wednesday, Anderson, who lives in Lincoln, east of Sacramento and works for Kaiser Hospital in Roseville, will speak to two classes at Novato High School, where he graduated in 1976. The goal is to urge young people to register with the transplant network when applying for their driver’s license.
More than 100,000 people are waiting for organ donations in the United States, including 48 people in Novato, according to the California Transplant Network. One in three will die because there are not enough available organs.
“The truth is people die every day, but out of that tragedy can come life that continues on and really blesses and improves the lives of so many people,” said Anderson who still corresponds with the family of the man whose heart now pumps in his body.
“And it can actually become a comfort for families that even in their loss, some good can come of it.”
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