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7,724,438 New Yorkers have joined the NYS Donate Life Registry

Jim Foti, Heart Recipient

Jim Foti Jr. - with dogs

Jim Foti Jr. lived with a nagging, underlying fear for 46 years.

Diagnosed as a child with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a disease in which the heart muscle becomes thickened and makes it harder for the heart to pump blood, Jim couldn’t play organized sports or even participate in gym class. Growing up in western New York, the adolescent boy coped under the circumstances as best he could. In high school, he was the team mascot so he could spend time with his more athletic friends.

Through adulthood, he lived a “normal life” while being mindful not to overexert himself, but in the back of Jim’s mind, he was in a state of constant worry.

“In your lifetime, how many times have you felt your heartbeat, just constantly thinking about that? Or if you feel something you wonder what the hell is going on? That was my life. I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

Jim Foti, Jr.

On Halloween 2021, that nagging thought became a bona fide reality. For several months prior, he battled gastrointestinal issues that doctors struggled to diagnose. Finally, it was determined these symptoms were caused by his underlying heart condition. After an aborted stress test, doctors had their answer: Jim needed a heart transplant. He was admitted that afternoon.

While his wife and family anxiously waited for good news back at their Tonawanda home, Jim played the “nerve-racking” waiting game from his cardiac unit bed. Days and weeks passed. “The days were long; sometimes the nights were longer,” he recalled.

On Sunday morning, November 28, his doctor walked into Jim’s room and proclaimed the words he longed to hear: “Good news, we got a heart for you!”

“And I immediately got nervous at that point, just really, really nervous,” he said. As thoughts of his heart transplant procedure sank in, his medical team initiated the precisely timed process of blood work and tests prepping him for surgery. The moment of truth finally arrived, and Jim was rolled into the operating room to receive his new heart.     

Following surgery, his doctors shared details of the textbook procedure. “They said the heart just started on its own like it was a perfect match,” said Jim. Within 24 hours of receiving a new heart, he was walking around the unit. Within two days, he was out of the ICU, and in just 10 days he walked out of the hospital – just missing the discharge record following a heart transplant by one day.

With a new heart and a new perspective on life, Jim said one of the first things he did upon arriving home was to go online and register to become an organ, eye, and tissue donor. “I was not an organ donor before this,” he admitted. “I didn’t think twice about it. I don’t know why, it never crossed my mind to check that box.” He then encouraged all his family and friends to do the same.

Having recently been given a clean bill of health following his one-year checkup, Jim enjoys spending time with his wife and family, walking his dogs, and cheering for his beloved Buffalo Bills. While he has yet to know his donor’s identity, he wants to honor the young man’s memory by raising awareness about registering to be an organ, eye, or tissue donor.

“If you pass away and you have the ability to give your organs to somebody else to extend their life, what legacy is greater than that?”

Jim Foti, Jr.