BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A Maryland man celebrates the 30th anniversary of his heart transplant.

As Christie Ileto explains, this week’s milestone makes him one of the nation’s longest surviving heart transplant patients.

Baltimore County resident Orlando DeFelice knows firsthand just how far heart transplant surgeries have come.

At 28, battling a serious heart condition, DeFelice was fighting to live.

“When I was first told I was going to need a heart transplant, that was very scary. Especially at that time, heart transplants weren’t being done,” said DeFelice.

In 1983, a team of Hopkins doctors put the heart of a 16-year-old girl killed in an accident into his chest, making DeFelice Hopkins’ second heart transplant patient.

“We knew it was going to work. What we didn’t know was how well it was going to work,” said Dr. Edward Kasper.

At the time, the procedure was in its infancy–more risky and more complicated. Doctors gave DeFelice a 50 percent chance of surviving his first five years post-surgery.

Kasper didn’t perform the surgery, but he’s been DeFelice’s cardiologist for the last 20 years.

“To be able to point to some people who we’ve clearly helped and say ‘This man is alive today’ is a good feeling,” said Kasper.

This week, DeFelice celebrates 30 years of life post-surgery, becoming one of the nation’s longest surviving heart transplants, even while receiving a kidney three years ago.

“We have seen firsthand how wonderful organ donation can be, and how it can literally save someone’s life,” said DeFelice.

And now, Orlando DeFelice and his wife Pamela are asking others to be organ donors so someone else may have the same chance as Orlando.

To date, Hopkins has done almost 600 heart transplants.

Even today, there is still a shortage of donor hearts.  Doctors are hoping DeFelice’s story will encourage people to be an organ donor.

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