Mitch Peterson was the 500th person to have a heart transplant at California Pacific Medical Center Van Ness hospital. (Courtesy Sutter Health)

Heart transplant patient raring to ‘have a second lease on life’

Mitch Peterson waited years for the breath he took Wednesday when he stepped out of the CMPC Van Ness campus, between Japantown and Polk Gulch districts.

Peterson, a 29-year-old Oakland resident, was discharged from the California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC) Van Ness campus hospital on Wednesday, 12 days after he successfully underwent a heart transplant. He is the 500th patient to receive a heart transplant at the hospital.

“Waking up, I could take a breath without struggling. I feel better than in the last three years,” said Peterson.

Peterson was hospitalized in Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland on July 11th after he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, then moved to Summit Health Center Pacific Renaissance in Oakland, before finally getting admitted to CPMC Van Ness for the operation.

The failure was triggered by chemotherapy that Peterson received for bone cancer in his leg at the age of 13, which damaged his heart.

Though Peterson does not know who the donor is because of confidentiality considerations, he said he will write a thank you letter through a program implemented by Donor Network West, an organ procurement and tissue recovery organization.

“Mitch is alive because someone made a donation,” said Nhile Grajales, donation program consultant for Donor Network West, who advocated for voluntary donor registration.

Peterson’s recovery was quick, a fact that Brett Sheridan, CPMC’s surgeon who performed the heart transplantation, attributed to his youth. Heart transplant patients recover in 14 days on average.

Dan Carr, 37, Peterson’s friend of 10 years, is not surprised by his quick recovery.

Carr said his friend lives a healthy life, a combination of diet and intense exercise.

“He is aggressive at taking care of himself,” said Carr with a grin.

“It is quite phenomenal that he is recovering that fast. He is a very athletic and strong fighter,” said Denise Peterson, Peterson’s sister and a 36-year old hairstylist in San Francisco.

Peterson said that being bedridden for a month made him lose muscles, and he cannot wait to go back to the gym.

However, doctors advised Peterson to start exercising slowly and wait two to three months before going back to the gym. He also needs to stay sober for the next five years and cannot work any job for the next six months.

Tyler Cullom, Peterson’s coworker, set up a GoFundMe page on July 17th to help cover the medical bills. Nearly 200 people had raised $23,300 of $30,000 goal as of Wednesday afernoon.

Peterson felt blessed by the “amount of gratitude,” and said the support expressed helped him to recover.

“The appreciation for all the little things will resonate for a long time. I have a second lease on life,” said Peterson.

If you are interested in being an organ donor, you can register through your local DMV or go to donornetworkwest.org.

tlarcher@sfexaminer.com

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