In the prime years of his life, Louis Rosetti of Lockport had advanced coronary disease that resulted in several heart attacks. Doctors told the General Motors factory worker point-blank that his very survival depended on receiving a heart transplant, and soon. He was put on the donor list, but became increasingly depressed as the seemingly endless wait took its toll. As he felt his life slipping away, Louis immersed himself in the Bible and spoke to fellow Christians who comforted him. It was, Louis's son Bob remembered, truly "a life and death struggle."
On Saturday afternoon, March 21, 1987, a phone call changed the lives of the Rosettis, a close-knit Italian family. The phone call, which Bob picked up, reported the joyous news that at last a donor heart was available, but it would be viable for only a few hours. Louis had to have the operation as soon as possible, not in Western New York, but in Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Grasping the gravity of the situation, Bob asked his father to pick up the other line and hear the news himself. But Louis was tired and feeling poorly, and did not feel up to it. Bob insisted, telling his father that this was one phone call he didn't want to miss. Louis did pick up the phone. When he realized the import of the news, Louis's face blanched and he sat down.
The only way to get to the heart in time was through Mercy Flight. Fortunately, a communications company had given Louis a free pager to contact the nonprofit instantaneously. Once Mercy Flight was briefed on the trip, Louis had to get to the Buffalo helipad. Local firefighters came straightaway, in part because they were family friends, and drove the Rosettis to the Erie County line. Then, the Erie County Sheriff escorted them to the Buffalo airport, where Mercy Flight picked Louis up for the flight to Pittsburgh. Louis didn't say much during the trip, in part because the medical staff kept him calm by letting him read his Bible and by telling him what passed by on the ground below. Bob described the whole series of events as "kind of surreal."
What made this case unusual was the donor heart. Organ donors are usually anonymous. Not this donor. The heart came from a young man from Porter, New York, a small town near Lake Ontario, a mere twenty minutes from the Rosetti home. He had suffered serious head trauma while riding his motorcycle on the Robert Moses Parkway, and died at St. Mary's Hospital in Lewiston. So, Mercy Flight flew Louis Rosetti and the heart he desperately needed side-by-side all the way to Pittsburgh. To pay his respects and show his immense gratitude, Bob Rosetti attended the donor's funeral service.
After the miraculous transplant, Louis was a 50-year-old man with a 24-year-old heart. He was "no longer on death's door," and with rehabilitation, his quality of life improved dramatically. He moved about much more easily, and so returned to work, remodeled his home, and resumed his love of sports. At one point, he won a charity golf tournament. He also resumed hunting and coaching boys' hockey.
Later that same year, Louis fell ill and needed Mercy Flight's services yet again. Not wanting to take chances with Louis's recent heart transplant, his doctor ordered him back to Pittsburgh for treatment. Louis once again went to the Buffalo airport, where Mercy Flight flew him to Presbyterian Hospital. Fortunately, the illness turned out to be a minor intestinal infection, and Louis recovered in a few days.
"Western New York is definitely fortunate to have such a service," Bob Rosetti said of Mercy Flight. "Certainly, Mercy Flight saved my dad's life. He wouldn't have survived without it." Amazingly, Louis lived another fourteen years with that heart, passing away in 2001.
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