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OC man gets long-awaited heart transplant

February 14, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Many people who need an organ transplant will die waiting. This Valentine's Day, one local man's heart is full of gratitude because during a time of tragedy, another family found it in their hearts to think of others.

We met 41-year-old Sean Cronkite in November at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. He had been waiting two and half years for a new heart and at that time, his heart function was nearly gone.

Cronkite was born with transposition of the great vessels. The plumbing in his heart flowed backward and the surgical repair was no longer working.

The odds of him getting a new organ was slimmer than most. At nearly 6-foot-6, he needed a heart from a person of similar stature.

"They needed a heart strong enough to pump the big body. Sort of like putting a Mini Cooper engine into a truck, it's not going to do it," said Cronkite.

When he almost lost hope, he got the call on January 10, 2011. Doctors told Cronkite he would receive the heart of a 29-year-old 6-foot-6 tall man.

The next morning, he felt something he never felt before: a strong heart beat.

"It almost felt like it was shaking my whole body but it was pretty neat," said Cronkite. "They looked up at the EKG (electrocardiogram) and for the first time in my life it was normal."

Experts say every year organ donations and transplants continue to decline. So Cronkite has a special heartfelt message for everyone this Valentine's Day.

"Let your family members know, if you wish to become a donor let them know what your wishes are," he said.

Cronkite's wish is to recover completely, get back to work and be the best husband and father he can be. He is still being monitored very carefully for any signs of rejection, but so far all the signs have been good. He says just because you've indicated you're a donor on your driver's license, you still have to let your loved ones know that those are your wishes.