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‘Icing on the cake’ — Bucktown man receives heart transplant on 45th birthday

Marc Lestinsky was diagnosed with heart failure in 2014 as a long-term side effect of chemotherapy for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma he had as a child.

Marc Lestinsky speaks sitting next to Northwestern cardiologist Dr. Esther Vorovich with his parents and twin brother behind him.
Surrounded by doctors and family, Marc Lestinsky speaks about the successful heart transplant he underwent on his 45th birthday at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
Megan Nagorzanski/Sun-Times

As a kid, Marc Lestinsky would ask for anything sports-related for his birthday.

“Basketball, baseball — he was a sports enthusiast,” his mother, Rosemarie Lestinsky said.

But this year, he got something even better — a new lease on life.

On July 31, his 45th birthday, Lestinsky underwent a successful heart transplant at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Now just five days out of surgery, Lestinsky is up walking and getting his bearings.

More than anything else, he said he feels “grateful and blessed” to be where he is today.

“I’m here and I’m thankful for it,” Lestinsky said. “I’m thankful for all the doctors and nurses here. I’m thankful for all the friends and family that I have in my life, they’ve been so supportive, and I would just like to say thank you to the individual whose heart I have accepted, and hopefully continue to accept.”

Lestinsky was diagnosed with heart failure in 2014 as a long-term side effect of chemotherapy treatment for the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma he had as a child.

Even though most people know about the short-term side effects of chemo, Northwestern Medicine cardiologist Dr. Esther Vorovich said many people aren’t aware of the potential long-term complications like heart failure. Now many pediatric hospitals have clinics for cancer survivors to get checked for complications like heart dysfunction, she said.

His heart failure symptoms weren’t obvious at first, Lestinsky said. The dysfunction manifested as stomach pains, which Vorovich said is common among young people with heart failure.

“He did what a lot of our really young patients with heart failure do, which is look really good and think they feel really good. But then inside, there’s a lot of turmoil going on,” Vorovich said.

But she said if anyone was suited to take on heart failure and open heart surgery, it was Lestinsky.

“There’s no one more tough than childhood survivors of cancer,” she said.

When Lestinsky called his mom to tell her he got a heart and was about to go into surgery, she said she couldn’t believe it.

“I just screamed and cried and hollered and cried and cried,” she said.

For Dr. Duc Thinh Pham, Lestinsky’s surgeon and surgical director of the Advanced Heart Failure Center, heart transplants are always special. He said there are only about 3,000 heart transplants done in the United States each year but estimated the odds of someone getting a heart on their birthday at “probably one in a million.”

“It’s probably the most rewarding part of my career,” Pham said, “and to be able to do it for somebody on their birthday is probably the best gift I could have given him.”

Originally from Connecticut, Lestinsky said he came to Chicago in 2006 to work in public relations for the Arena Football League. He moved back to the East Coast for a while but eventually made it back to Chicago because he “fell in love with this city.”

Lestinsky’s twin brother, Mike, said he admires how humble and brave Marc is through all of this.

“Good things should happen to good people, especially in this day and age,” he said. “I’m really happy that something good happened to my brother because he would give you his heart. I can guarantee you that.”

Although he is still recovering from surgery and trying to get back to normal, Vorovich said Lestinsky could go home as early as this Wednesday.

“I feel like if you have your health, you have everything,” Lestinsky said. “The icing on the cake is that it was on my birthday. I think the doctor might have held off a day,” he said, laughing.