By Danny Schrafel
Three months after his successful heart transplant, the story of Greenlawn’s Christian Siems continues to spread around the country and the world.
Most recently, a pack of basketball Bearcats halfway across the United States are in his corner, spreading the word at the University of Cincinnati about the importance of organ donation.
Troy Caupain Sr.’s son, Troy Jr., is a rising junior and point guard for the University of Cincinnati Bearcats. Troy Sr.’s father, Robert, heard Christian’s story and relayed it to the family. They, in turn, shared it with Cincinnati.
“He mentioned to me that Christian loves basketball and what he was going through,” Troy Sr. said. “We took that to heart. I spoke to my son, spoke to his coach and let him know that Christian was an official Bearcat.”
That commitment came with a signed Bearcat and Cincinnati swag, including a banner, a hat and a decal. There are also plans for Christian to meet up with the Bearcats when they play at the Barclays Center during the Thanksgiving tournament in November. More importantly – a pledge to do all they can to spread the gospel of organ donation awareness.
“It brings organ donation awareness. People are talking about it and realizing the need for it,” said Christian’s mother, Michele Martines, of Greenlawn. “He’s the same age as kids in college.”
On April 24, Siems and his family rushed to Westchester Medical Center when a viable heart became available. The procedure came six weeks after he was added to the list of New Yorkers in need of a heart transplant, and six months after being airlifted there for an emergency procedure was performed on Nov. 6 to equip him with a Left Ventricular Assist Device – an artificial heart.
During a celebratory two-month anniversary outing to Albert’s Mandarin Gourmet in Huntington, Christian said he was feeling “a lot better” following his operation, dropping water weight, walking around better, and not having to worry anymore about making sure he has charged batteries at the ready for his LVAD.
On July 29 at the Caupain family’s home, he was feeling better still.
The road to a transplant began June 28, 2012, a few weeks after Christian had tried to give blood at Harborfields High School. They turned him down after discovering “something wrong” with his heart rate, Michele said.
Following a visit to a neighborhood cardiologist that day and a sequence of rushed visits to hospitals and emergency procedures, Christian was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart becomes weakened and enlarged and cannot pump blood effectively.
Christian will undergo routine biopsies to test for rejection. Immediately post-op, patients are tested weekly; then every other week before going monthly. The goal is to get to a point where tests are done yearly, which Martines said usually occurs around the five-year mark.
“Getting to the one-year mark is a really good place to get to,” she said.
Once Christian gets the all-clear on the health front, he plans to return to college, but he’s not sure what he’ll focus his studies on. He also plans to join his mother in stepping up advocacy efforts toward promoting organ donation, a critical need in New York, where only 24 percent of New Yorkers are organ donors. The national average is around 40 percent, Gass said.
Martines said she’s already planning to hit the speaking circuit and host a fundraising bike ride this coming April 25 – Christian’s one-year transplant anniversary date – in partnership with County Executive Steve Bellone. Christian has already been tapped to speak about his experience at Walt Whitman and Harborfields High Schools.
Already, an impact is being felt immediately from the family.
“People tell me, ‘I signed my license because of you,’” Michele said.
For Michele, the commitment to the cause emerged in 1990, when her mother, Florence Leva died. The call came, asking her to donate her mother’s eyes.
“I remember when they first called. My mother died and then I get the phone call,” she recalled. “And I’m like, ‘What’s the matter with you? She just died…’ and I started to think about it. ‘What is she going to do with her eyes?’”
Michele signed off on the transplant. As a result, four people were able to see