CHICAGO — A man from Chicago's Bucktown neighborhood celebrated his 45th birthday with a second chance at life with a brand new heart.
Marc Lestinsky just had the best birthday of his life, even though it was spent in surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
He said he has a new lease on life to go along with his new heart.
As a young boy, Marc Lestinsky used to look forward to his birthdays. His mom, Rosemarie Lestinsky, said he always asked for presents involving sports.
"Anything to do with a ball, basketball, baseball," Rosemarie Lestinsky said. "He was a sports enthusiast. He always liked sports.”
When he was nine years old, he was diagnosed with cancer and had nearly a year of chemotherapy.
“The chemo was tough," Rosemarie Lestinsky said.
He wore a hat to hide the fact that his hair fell out.
“I kind of felt, when I was a kid, I went through cancer, I thought better things were coming," Marc Lestinsky said.
For 29 years, he was happy and healthy, but a common side effect of childhood cancer treatment is heart failure, which presented symptoms decades later.
With stomach pain and trouble breathing, fighting cancer had weakened his body. The doctors told him he was experiencing heart failure.
It was soon clear that he was one of the 300,000 people who needs a heart transplant. Each year in the United States, only three patients get them.
“The odds of someone getting a heart on their birthday is probably one in a million chances," Dr. Duc Thinh Pham, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, said.
Just five days ago, on his 45th birthday, Lestinsky went into an operating room for a heart transplant, but not before he called his mom.
“I said, 'happy birthday.' He said, ‘mom, they got a heart," Rosemarie Lestinsky said. "I just screamed, cried, hollered and cried. It was a joyous day."
“For it to be on that day was pretty unreal to be honest with you," Marc Lestinsky said.
His family came from Connecticut to be with him. His twin brother, Mike Lestinsky, was by his side the whole time.
“Good things should happen to good people, especially in this day and age, and I’m really happy that something good happened to my brother because he would give you his heart if he could," Mike Lestinsky said.
Marc Lestinsky knows he’s just a few steps into a long journey of recovery, but he also knows that on his 45th birthday, he received the gift of life.
“I feel like if you have your health, you have everything," Marc Lestinsky said.
Lestinsky’s mother said her son’s case underscores how organ donation can be a life-saving decision.