Organ Donation Network Hopes Meteorologist's Heart Transplant Inspires Future Donors

Organ Donation Network Hopes Meteorologist's Heart Transplant Inspires Future Donors

Scott Hetsko

The head of the local organization that coordinates organ donations believes that WROC-TV meteorologist Scott Hetsko’s recent heart transplant will bring awareness to the need for more organ donors.

"Scott is loved by all of us in Rochester,” said Bob Kochik, executive director of the Finger Lakes Organ Recovery Network. “I think that speaks to his personality and quest for life. I think what it points out is that when we know someone who is waiting or has received a transplant, it increases our awareness."

Hetsko has been released from the hospital and is recovering at home. The popular meteorologist has been on leave from his job since June, but had asked viewers to give him and his family some privacy while he received treatment for his failing heart. It wasn't until Sunday night's 11 p.m. broadcast that viewers learned that Hetsko was a heart transplant recipient. 

Kochik says the wait for a heart transplant locally is anywhere from a few months to more than a year.

"Remember a few years ago, Vice President Cheney was waiting for a heart transplant and I think people speculated, 'Does he have to wait a long time, or does he get priority?' The fact is, whether you are a celebrity or not, the wait is the same," he said.

A match is made between an organ donor and recipient based on blood type, body size, and geographic location.  A heart has to be transplanted within three to four hours from the time it is removed from the donor.

"That limits patients when they're waiting for a transplant,” Kochik said. “They could receive an organ from 1,000 or 1,500 miles away, but someone in Rochester wouldn't be able to receive a heart from someone in California, because there just isn't that amount of time."

In New York, roughly 23 to 24 percent of those eligible are signed up on the state’s organ donation registry. That’s compared to 45 to 50 percent enrollment nationally.

Kochik and other organ donation advocates point to the relatively cumbersome registration process in New York compared to other states.  Adults may check a box to become an organ donation when they register for a driver’s license.

You can also register on line at   Kochik said it is important to have family conversations about individual wishes for organ donation. He said it is not always an easy process emotionally, but believes many family members are relieved when a situation does arise and they do not have to guess what their loved one’s wishes were.

Beth Adams/WXXI News