Heart transplant recipient makes organ donation her mission

Four years ago, Becky Mintz had a heart attack and didn’t realize it. She delayed getting to a hospital, putting further strain on her heart muscle.

Now, she has a donor heart and volunteers her time toward seeing more people sign up to be organ donors.

Mintz, who was 44 at the time of her heart attack, had no major health issues. The first sign of trouble was a migraine headache that came with vomiting. Sudden, intense burning caused her husband, Harold, to call 911. An emergency room doctor at Summerlin Hospital Medical Center determined that two blood clots had traveled to her heart. He told her family that time was of the essence.

“He said I needed an LVAD, and they went, ‘What’s an LVAD?’ ” she said of her husband and their daughter, Bailey. “Nobody knows what that is, except from ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’ ”

LVAD stands for left ventricular assist device, or an implantable heart pump.

“They later said they didn’t know if I was going to make it,” she said of her cardiology team. “When they told my husband I had a 50/50 chance, they were being generous.”

A medical flight whisked her to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. She was rushed to surgery, where an LVAD system was implanted in her. Harold sweated out the seven-hour operation and hurried into her room as soon as he was allowed.

“The horrifying thing is, you see a computer the size of a human being, this monstrosity of computers and machines, (hooked up to her), and she had all these tubes coming out of her,” he said.

Becky spent weeks in and out of the hospital, staying in Southern California with her sister. When she finally returned to Las Vegas, her life was restricted. She was connected to her machine by a 20-foot cable, her lifeline. To travel farther, she had to switch to battery power and lug along a wheeled suitcase full of equipment. The LVAD’s life span was two years, a temporary solution.

She was not doing well. An infection had set in. Back in the hospital, she was put her on the organ donor waiting list.

“You have a mixed bag of emotions,” she said. “You need an organ to live, but you know someone’s going to have to die in order for that to happen. I came to the resolve that people die every day … you have to kind of look at it as, they aren’t ‘dying’ for you, they’re just leaving a ‘gift’ for you.”

Eleven days later, on Oct. 24, 2008, a heart was located. Her surgery was a success, and she returned to Las Vegas to recover.

In 2010, Mintz vowed to help a cause: getting people to sign up as organ donors so that others might get a second chance at life, just as she had. She began speaking to high school students about becoming donors.

Kate McCullough, public relations coordinator for the Nevada Donor Network, said the waiting list for organs in Nevada is about 547, a number that can change daily. Kidneys are the most commonly donated, she said, and are the only type of transplant program in Nevada. Transplants are done at University Medical Center.

The Nevada Donor Network reports that about 41 percent of Nevadans have signed up as organ donors, which ranks the state 40th in the country.

“That’s actually fairly low,” McCullough said. “…There are some states that are up there with, like, 89 percent. Obviously, I’d like to see us near the top, but that’s going to take some time. The way we get there is more education.”

About six months after she began volunteering, Mintz targeted another group, new employees for the Department of Motor Vehicles. Nevada drivers have the option to sign up as donors, which is noted on their driver’s license.

Mintz had responded “yes” years ago on her license.

“It’s question No. 7 on the form, and you put down ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ ” she said. “If people don’t put anything down, then it’s just in limbo. You want them to make a decision. Say ‘yes’ or no’ so we know what you want. … I like being the ambassador for them.”

As of June, there were 840,152 Nevada licenses and ID cards with the organ donor designation, the DMV reports. Dianna Arnold is a trainer at DMV and applauded Mintz’s presentation to new employees.

“It gives them a whole new light on (donating their organs),” she said. “They get very emotional when they hear Becky’s story, to know what she went through.”

Mintz has also spoken at a conference for the labs where tissue matching is done to determine if a body organ is a match.

“They only see us on paper, so this was a new perspective for them,” she said.

About the time she began volunteering, Mintz learned that her donor was an 18-year-old man, Eddie Perea, who had had a dirt bike accident. She met the family, a clan of nearly 20 people, all eager to learn how she was doing. Both families now participate together in a Donate Life walk held annually at California State University, Fullerton.

Mintz started a support group, Vegas VADS and Heart Transplants, which meets about once a month. Members share stories of issues associated with dealing with hospitals out of state and other issues.

“There’s so much misconception about it, even some people who say, ‘Why bother? It doesn’t work. They (recipients) die.’ Yeah, well, maybe you only get however long you get, but it’s still better than nothing,” Mintz said.

For more information, visit donatelifenevada.org.

Contact Summerlin/Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at jhogan@viewnews.com or 702-387-2949.

Lee Canyon snow makes skiers smile
Skiers and snow boarders took advantage of the Presidents Day holiday and the recent snowfall at Lee Canyon, outside of Las Vegas. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Mount Charleston gets fresh blanket of snow
A winter storm drops nearly four inches of fresh snow on Sunday, February 17, 2019 at Mount Charleston outside Las Vegas. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Snow in the Las Vegas Valley
Snow accumulated in the Las Vegas Valley for the first time in more than a decade, with snow falling mostly in the western, northwestern and southern areas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review Journal) @bizutesfaye
Snow at US 95 and Lee Canyon Road
Passers-by pulled off Lee Canyon Road northwest of Las Vegas Monday to play in the fresh snow. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Road truck on an empty I-15
Snow and ice contributed to the closure of Interstate 15 near Primm. Jim Prather/Las Vegas Review-Journal
I-15 traffic diverted at St. Rose Parkway
The Nevada Highway Patrol has closed Interstate 15 in both directions between south Las Vegas and the California state line due to icy road conditions, Monday, Feb. 18, 2019. (Jim Prather/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ice on roadway shuts down I-15 south of Las Vegas
An overnight snowstorm left an icy roadway, causing the Nevada Highway Patrol to shut down Interstate 15 south of Las Vegas to the California state line. (Jim Prather/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
I-15 closed at St. Rose Parkway
Ice on Interstate 15 caused the Nevada Highway Patrol to close the highway from St. Rose Parkway in south Las Vegas to the California state line on Monday, Feb. 18, 2019. (Jim Prather/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Driving a snowy Sunday night in Summerlin
Several inches of snow have fallen in Summerlin on Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019. This shows street conditions between Charleston and Far Hills in Summerlin. (Jim Prather/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Winter wonderland at Summerlin park
A snowstorm hit Fox Hill Park in Summerlin on Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019. (Jim Prather/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
February snowstorm in western Las Vegas
A snowstorm hit Summerlin and parts of western Las Vegas on Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019. (Jim Prather/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Snow in Summerlin
Snow near Far Hills and Fox Hill Drive.
Valentine's Day Brings Wet Weather To Las Vegas
Parts of the Las Vegas Valley received more than an inch of rain by 1 p.m. Thursday, triggering numerous vehicle accidents, sparking flooding and prompting at least two swift-water rescues in flood channels. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Artist sends love from the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign
Artist Chris O'Rourke has a giant heart mounted in the back of pickup positioned for photos at the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign on the Las Vegas Strip on Valentine's Day 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rain doesn't dampen weddings on Valentine's Day
Charolette Richards, owner of A Little White Wedding Chapel who has been performing weddings for 60 years, started Valentine’s Day 2019 by performing a wdding for Las Vegas couple David and Elaine Cook at the chapel’s Tunnel of Love drive-thru. Richards has over 100 weddings booked for Valentine’s Day. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Swift-water rescue in Las Vegas
The Clark County Fire Department rescued one person from the flooded Durango Wash in Las Vegas on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
It is a rainy Valentine's Day in Las Vegas - Video
These scenes come from the Las Vegas Stadium LiveCam (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rainy and soggy on Valentine's Day
Valentine's Day across the Las Vegas Valley will be soggy and wet. A flood advisory has been issued for Clark County. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Early morning rainfall in Las Vegas
The Las Vegas valley was hit with rainfall early Thursday morning. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Janelle Veith, Quest Academy principal, talks about her school success
Janelle Veith, Quest Academy principal, talks about her school success. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Learning how to create your own comic book
Jean Munson talks about the class she teaches at the Maximum Comics in Henderson on creating and publishing your own comic book.
Top Ladies of Distinction unveils second Las Vegas chapter
Officers Clair Hart and Rose Coker discuss the service organization’s work and mission.
The Animal Foundation Opens New Wing
On Tuesday, The Animal Foundation opened the doors to its new Engelstad Foundation Adoption center. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
North Las Vegas firefighter skates from ice to fire
Darcy Loewen, a former pro hockey player, finds a new career as a North Las Vegas firefighter. (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Carnival AirShip floats over Las Vegas
Carnival Cruise flew a blimp over the LAs Vegas Valley on Thursday in a promotion for its new Carnival Panorama ship. (Mat luschek/Review-Journal)
Pedestrian dies after crash at Decatur and Alta
Las Vegas police investigate a fatal crash that killed a pedestrian at Decatur Boulevard and Alta Driver about 6 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019. (Jessica Terrones/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Star Wars Cosplayers Visit Sick Kids At Sunrise Hospital & Medical Center
Members of Coruscant Base, a Star Wars cosplay group, visit kids at Sunrise Hospital & Medical Center. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Hail and wet snow in Las Vegas
The western edges of Las Vegas saw some hail and wet snow on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Developer Jim Rhodes lists his mansion for $30 million
Jim Rhodes, a developer, has listed his mansion in Spanish Hills community for $30 million. The mansion is situated on 2 acres of land and features 19,345 square feet of living space. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Court ruling brings hope to local Vietnam veteran
Blue Water Navy Veteran Michael Yates talks about possible medical benefits he could receive after a federal court ruling this week. Yates claims he was exposed to Agent Orange and attributes that to his health problems, which include cancer.
Las Vegas charter school excels in areas of greatest need
Mater Academy Mountain Vista charter school students excel despite the fact that half the students are English language learners and all qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Tony Sanchez wraps up the UNLV season
UNLV football coach Tony Sanchez wraps up the season. Video by Mark Anderson/Las Vegas Review-Journal
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing