STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Heart transplant recipient Michael Modica went from a healthy construction worker to near death in just one month.
The 30-year-old is alive today thanks to a mother's intuition, the team of doctors at Staten Island University Hospital's (SIUH) Ocean Breeze and Prince's Bay campuses and Northwell Health's Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital in Long Island.
"I have a clean slate now; I'm just happy to be alive and very appreciative of [whoever the donor was]. It's just crazy, I can't think of any other way to describe it," said Modica through tears as he spoke of his new heart.
Most people spend years awaiting organ transplants, especially when they're waiting for a heart, but Modica got a new heart in just over six months. He was initially told it would be one to two years -- but a match was found much sooner.
"I'm happier than I sound," he said from his Rossville home, where he's recovering.
A HEALTH CRISIS
Last November, Modica went to urgent care with symptoms of a regular cold. He was diagnosed with bronchitis, given antibiotics and told to get rest and drink lots of fluids. He was told he could expect to be better in about two weeks.
Two weeks passed. Not only was he not feeling better, he felt worse. He was so sick that his mother, Mary Dahl, who lives in Toms River, N.J., came to bring him cough medicine.
Dahl saw how sick her son was and made him go to the emergency room at SIUH in Prince's Bay.
"By the time we got to the emergency room I was in liver, kidney and heart failure," Modica recalled. His heart had also grown to twice its normal size.
He was diagnosed -- via telephone by a doctor at SIUH's Ocean Breeze location -- with cardiomyopathy, which was caused by an illness.
The doctors told Modica they think he may have had an undiagnosed pre-existing condition.
"When people ask me if there's anything they can do, I say: 'become an organ donor.' Especially after experiencing how important donors can be to somebody like myself. It's an absolute necessity," Modica said.
After his diagnosis. Modica was transferred to Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, where doctors opened his chest to insert a left ventricular assist device, known as an LVAD.
The LVAD allowed Modica to go about his day while he waited for a new heart, but it did slow him down. He needed to waterproof the equipment in order to shower, and daily maintenance took hours. He was also taking 18 pills daily and going for weekly blood tests.
He started sleeping with his cell phone next to his ear, waiting for that life-changing call.
On July 10 at 3:30 a.m., Dahl -- who had spent the night at her son's home -- came running down the hallway into his room and handed him the phone.
Dr. Brian Lima, cardiac transplant doctor and surgical director at Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital in Long Island, had called him several times. When he didn't answer the phone, Lima called his mother.
Modica and Dahl were at the Long Island hospital within an hour.
Modica was the first Staten Island patient to receive a heart transplant at the new facility, which opened in February and has performed transplants on a total of 10 patients to date.
A SELFLESS ACT
Modica was an organ donor prior to receiving his "new" heart, but now he said he understands how crucially important and selfless the act is.
He said he considers it a personal insult when a friend or family member tells him that they're not a donor.
"It really is the most selfless thing that you can do. You don't need them any more once you go and you can potentially save half a dozen or more lives," he said.
There's a chance he may need a second heart transplant in the future. Until then, he said he plans to just enjoy life.
"At this point, if I got 10 years [out of this heart] I would be happy. Just being able to walk around and experience life again is enough for me."