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West Orange Times & Observer Thursday, May 26, 2022 1 month ago

Denzel Irvin receives new heart, new chance at life

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The miracle came less than a month after Denzel arrived at the hospital’s ER.
by: Andrea Mujica Staff Writer

Denzel Irvin was in a race against time as he waited for a heart transplant at Atrium Health Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, but on April 25, he got a new heart — and a new chance in life. 

“It’s really nothing but a miracle,” his twin brother, Darius Irvin, said. “God got him through it.”

The miracle came less than a month after Denzel arrived at the hospital’s ER. He had what he thought were COVID symptoms and was shocked when doctors discovered his heart was failing. 

The 26-year-old Winter Garden native was a star defensive back for Foundation Academy who played Division I football for UNC-Charlotte. Yet, despite Irvin’s fitness level, his heart was working at 10% capacity and he had fluid building around his heart and in his lungs and stomach.

During his weeks waiting for a new heart, Denzel was first connected to an intra-aortic balloon pump machine to help his heart function. Eventually, Irvin’s body began to stabilize, and doctors decided to take him off the IABP and increase medications.

But two days later, his condition worsened — his liver and kidneys began to fail.

When in line to receive a new heart, failure of the kidneys or the liver could have kicked Denzel off the waiting list, so on April 23, the doctors connected him to an Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation machine, which allows blood to be pumped outside of the body. That moved Denzel up to Status 1 on the transplant waiting list. 

Two days later, the news came: Irvin was getting a new heart.

“When you are waiting to receive a heart, they don’t come very often; they could take days, weeks, months or even years, so to get it in two days after being on that machine, I was really happy,” Denzel said.

 

THE SURGERY

Denzel received his new heart on Monday, April 25. It’s the day God gave Denzel a second chance at life. 

On his way to the operating room, he remembers a calmness falling over him.

“I was so happy for it to actually be happening,” Denzel said. “I was just thanking God and praying, thinking about my daughter. I was just trying to breathe, because I didn’t want to panic, so I was just focusing on my breathing. Then, in a few minutes I was sedated, I was out.”

The surgery took a total of five hours. Denzel awoke two days later, on April 27. 

“When I woke up, I had a breathing tube all the way down my throat, so I was kind of panicking a little bit,” he said. “That was really uncomfortable.” 

Because of the odd sensation of having the breathing tube still connected when he woke up, Denzel didn’t notice the difference between his old heart and the new one until after the tube was out.

“I began to realize I had a new heart, and it did feel weird,” he said. “It felt different, because I could feel my heart beating, and it was actually loud; I could hear it.”

Denzel wrote a letter to his donor’s family after receiving the heart. He’s waiting to hear back from them.

 

THE ROAD TO RECOVERY

Even though transplant patients can be discharged within 10 days, they are typically hospitalized for two weeks or more. Irvin was discharged from Atrium Health Carolinas Medical Center six days after he received his new heart. 

Currently, he is eating a lot to try to gain back the weight he lost in the hospital. He is walking three times every day and taking 31 pills daily. 

For 46 weeks, Denzel cannot lift more than 10 pounds. However, he does add some bodyweight workouts into his daily routine, such as squats and lunges. And for the next six months, he will have regular biopsies of the heart. Those will continue annually for the rest of his life.

Furthermore, Denzel will have to be careful when being around other people for the rest of his life. 

“My immune system is suppressed, because I am on steroid for the anti-rejection,” he said. “My body could reject this heart at any time, so I have to be on those medicines for the rest of my life.”

For the Irvin twins, this situation has shifted their outlook in life. 

“We just realized that my brother is in a situation where his life will be changed,” Darius Irvin said. “Seeing him through this process put a different spectrum for me, because it made me realize I have to enjoy each moment and each second of my life. I am the type of person where I always plan ahead. I like to calculate my steps and be ahead of the game, but seeing him go through that made me realize that we need to sit back, enjoy the moment and enjoy what’s ahead of you, because you never know what will happen next.” 

“I want to make sure I am taking the most of every opportunity and not taking life for granted,” Denzel Irvin said. “This situation has definitely made me have a new outlook on what I was doing, and I think this happened for a reason, and I will be better from this.”

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Andrea Mujica is a staff writer for the West Orange Times & Observer, the Southwest Orange Observer and OrangeObserver.com. She covers sports, news and features. She holds both a bachelor's degree in journalism and an MBA from the University of Central Florida....

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