Heart transplant patient becomes unexpected ambassador for organ donation

Published on December 29, 2012 at 4:53 AM · No Comments

Kevin Riepl arrived at Cedars-Sinai in October 2010, suffering from sudden heart failure that left him fighting for his life. Surgeons swiftly installed a heart pump and later transplanted a new heart, saving his life and turning him into an unexpected ambassador for organ donation.

Now the 38-year-old Winnetka man is preparing to represent Cedars-Sinai's Comprehensive Transplant Center on the 2013 Donate Life Rose Parade float. With his wife, twin sons and parents watching from the grandstand, Riepl hopes his presence on the float will send a message about the importance of donating organs.

"It's the best gift anybody can ever give," he said.

Riepl's doctors say they are pleased with his recovery after seven surgeries over 2 ½ years, and that his new heart is stronger than ever. Riepl, they say, is an inspiration to other transplant patients.

"Kevin's case shows how important organ donation is, especially these days, when there are thousands of people on waiting lists," said Andrew S. Klein, MD, MBA, director of the Comprehensive Transplant Center and the Esther and Mark Schulman Chair in Surgery and Transplantation Medicine.

Before Riepl became sick he was leading an otherwise happy life -- writing music for video games, playing with his twin sons, working out at the gym near his San Fernando Valley home. Then in the fall of 2010 he started to feel fatigue, nausea and chest pain. Initially, he attributed the symptoms to a cold, but he continued to feel sicker and sicker. "I knew something wasn't right," he said.

One evening in October 2010, Riepl asked his wife to call 911. He was taken to the emergency room of a nearby community hospital. His organs were shutting down and he stopped breathing for a short time.
Within hours, Riepl was airlifted to Cedars-Sinai, where he was placed on a heart bypass machine before surgeons installed a temporary heart pump known as a left ventricular assist device. It kept him alive while he awaited a new heart, which became available in July 2011.

The transplant turned out to be just the beginning of Riepl's road back to health. Soon after his transplant, doctors discovered a rare tumor on Riepl's adrenal gland that was affecting his blood pressure. He also has undergone several arm surgeries to repair damage from blood clots.

But today, with his heart condition now under control, Riepl has returned to the gym and racquetball. And once again, he can horse around with his twins, now 5 ½ and in kindergarten.

"I feel great," he said, crediting his turn-around to the medical care he received at Cedars-Sinai. "Everyone was exceptional. I believe I received the best of best care a hospital could provide."

Riepl's doctors say they are delighted with his progress and moved by his unabashed spirit.

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