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17 Years of Perspective: Attorney Gerald Edelstein Understands the Value of Organ Donation

Los Angeles - May 2, 2007 – Entertainment industry attorney Gerald Edelstein was doing everything right to avoid a heart attack – eating a heart-healthy diet with no red meat or dairy products and religiously working out at the gym.

But one day in mid-February 1990, his best efforts were no match for the unstable plaque that had quietly accumulated in the arteries feeding his heart. A clot broke loose, blocking the blood flow and starving his heart of oxygen.

“I was walking out of the gym in Los Angeles, which I still go to. I felt pains in my chest and started sweating profusely. I basically started lying down on the floor and I was out of breath,” Edelstein says. “A friend of mine, who I used to go to the gym with six days a week, rushed me to Cedars-Sinai. It turned out to be a massive heart attack.”

Surviving only on life support, Edelstein needed a heart transplant. A donor organ became available a week after the heart attack and the transplant took place on Feb. 20. Now, nearly two decades years later, Edelstein looks back at how his life has changed and the ways it has remained the same.

“You get up in the morning and you look outside and say, ‘You’re lucky to be alive.’ It makes you more spiritual and you appreciate every minute. To that extent, my life has changed,” he says. “To other extents it hasn’t changed, in that it has been a little more than 17 years since I had the transplant and life becomes more normal – although maybe the normalcy is normal for a heart transplant patient. At times you forget you had the transplant. You get too excited, too stressed, just like all people do. So you’ve learned lessons but you don’t always realize them every minute of the day.”

“For the first four or five years, you very much concentrate on it (the transplant) because you get more medical care, more attention, and it’s still new to you. But as time goes on, it becomes more normal,” adds Edelstein, who sees his cardiologist, Asher Kimchi, M.D., an attending physician in the Division of Cardiology at Cedars-Sinai regularly, but comes back to Cedars-Sinai’s Heart Transplant Program only once a year for a transplant evaluation.

“When this first happened, I never even knew of heart transplantation. It was the furthest thing from my mind. I’ve been very lucky. I’ve gone on to lead a very productive life. I work a full day. I have a lot of very well-to-do, famous people who I represent. I got married for the first time 10 years ago, and I have a very good quality of life,” Edelstein says.

“I’m not saying I’m ready to run in a marathon or be an Olympic athlete,” he continues. “The days are long past when I could even dream of doing things like that. But you lead a normal life. You can lead a good life and a very productive life, so I believe very much in transplantation because it can help people not just survive but also lead very productive, good lives and contribute to society.”

The heart transplant specialists at Cedars-Sinai launched their program in 1988 and know of other patients who were transplanted earlier than Edelstein, but few are local or have kept in such close contact.

“We’ve been following him since he first came to the hospital in 1990. We made the assessment that he needed a transplant and we’ve seen him continuously since then. He has done very, very well,” says Lawrence Czer, M.D., medical director of Cedars-Sinai’s Heart Transplant Program and director of Transplantation Cardiology. Czer has evaluated nearly every donor heart for each of the more than 450 patients who have received heart transplants at Cedars-Sinai.

“His experience is an excellent example of the way an organ donor can extend life and return a person to a productive role in society,” Czer says. “Donation is a way to bring some good out of a potentially tragic situation. The average donor contributes to four different recipients, so it becomes an extension of life that is multiplied, not just in one person. You’re benefiting an average of four people.”

Californians can register with the Donate Life California Organ & Tissue Donor Registry at www.donatelifecalifornia.org or by checking “Yes” to be an organ and tissue donor when renewing their California driver’s license.