Heart transplant recipient doing well, five years later

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Danny Remillard of Slave Lake had a massive stroke in 2004 that partially paralyzed him. Fighting back from that involved a lot of medication, operations and devices to help his weak heart. However, within a few years he was able to play drums and sing in the local band The Drivers. But his heart had other ideas.

“The first time the de-fibrillator (basically a shock-deliverer to re-start the heart) went off I was playing a gig with The Drivers. I went down and the boys could hear it winding up, then shocking me. I then finished the gig, but I wouldn’t recommend that.”

The writing was pretty much on the wall by then. A transplant was the only option left.

Remillard is alive and well in 2020 because of somebody else’s heart. His own ticker was enlarged, worn out and probably wouldn’t have kept him alive to see the year of 2016.

As it is, he’s enjoying life for all it’s worth 16 years after a debilitating stroke and five years after getting the new heart.

In 2004 Remillard was running his auto-detailing business in town, playing music on the side, and raising a family with his then-wife Shannon. He says he hadn’t been feeling very well for a while, and then one day woke up and “wasn’t making sense.” He also had trouble walking. The stroke partially paralyzed is right side and affected his vocal cords. Doctors found out the cause was something called ‘dilated cardio myopathy.’ In other words an enlarged heart that wasn’t doing a very good job pumping blood.

Medication was the first type of treatment, but it didn’t do much good. Next came a pacemaker/defibrillator – the first to keep the heart in rhythm and the second to shock it into action when it stopped. They worked for a while, but his condition worsened. That was when doctors recommended a pump called LVAD to help the heart do its job. It bought him seven months.

“At this point I had been in the hospital for a year-and-a-half. Once on the list I was sent home to await transplant. Less than 24 hours later I was called back because they had the perfect heart.”

Not many people drive themselves to their transplant appointment, or walk into the OR under their own steam. Even fewer spend less than a day on the waiting list.

“I won the lottery, pretty much,” Remillard says. “I needed something to go my way.”

This was it. He figures 50 people were in the operating theatre, so complicated was the procedure. It took about 14 hours.

Remillard was four months in the hospital. By then, he says he felt remarkably good. He had new energy and strength the like of which he hadn’t felt in years. Closing in on the fifth anniversary of the procedure, he says he is feeling good and “not taking things for granted.” He provided a list of the things he is doing or has done to improve his health (physical and mental) over his long ordeal. One is working on his 1967 Dodge Coronet – a 14-year project so far. Another is “learning to play drums while partially paralyzed.” Hunting and fishing for short periods is part of it; getting his driver’s license back was another important step in the process. So was seeing his kids graduate from high school and being able to attend his dad’s funeral and his mom’s 84th birthday.

As noted, Remillard is a musician; he has been for many years and continues to play in The Drivers along with Dean Foster and Phil Willier. He has a music studio in his basement, rigged out for practice and for recording and has been writing music, he says. Some of it can be found online, by searching for him by name on YouTube.

Remillard has never regained full use of his right hand. He says he’s had to adjust his guitar playing style, since he can’t hold a pick properly. And keyboards he can only play with his left hand. But he makes it work.

“Every day is a gift,” he says.

Speaking of gifts, Remillard says he reached out to the family of his heart donor, thanking them. The hospital doesn’t tell you who the donor was, he says, but it does allow for the recipient to get in touch, usually by way of a letter. It’s up to the family to decide whether to respond or not and in this case they didn’t. An interesting side note is that in the place he stayed while recovering from the operation in early 2016 were a couple of other recipients of organs from the same person.

“We talked every day,” he says. “We consider ourselves brothers, and they’re all doing very well.”

Ready to rock: Danny Remillard, in his basement studio.

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