Not many people can say they’ve had multiple hearts in their lifetime, but one grateful Emory Transplant Center patient can and is now working to make it possible for others to say the same.
On Sunday, July 17, over 400 guests attended the first annual “Angels of Life” Hair and Fashion Show held by Three-13 Salon, Spa and Boutique of Marietta. The event raised over $31,000 for the Georgia Transplant Foundation and was planned by Lester Crowell, Emory patient and managing partner of Three-13 Salon, to help fellow transplant patients and to commemorate the salon’s 37th anniversary.
According to Crowell, Three-13 Salon has a strong history of philanthropic work, from donating to Ronald McDonald House to volunteering their time for the Cobb County School Systems. But after undergoing his second heart transplant, the business’s managing partner decided he ought to focus on something very close to home: transplant patients.
“It was fantastic for our first event,” Crowell said. “I think we raised a lot of awareness about transplants and organ donations.”
The event took place at the Cobb Energy Centre and consisted of a silent auction followed by a hair and fashion theatrical show featuring products sold by Three-13 Salon. Several transplant patients shared their testimony of how their lives were changed through organ donors. Both Dr. Andrew Smith, MD, Clinical Chief of Cardiology for Emory University Hospital, and Dr. David Vega, MD, director of Emory’s Heart Transplant Program, spoke on stage in support of Crowell, their patient, and his cause.
For Crowell, his own journey towards a heart transplant began when he was 13. What started as recurring chest pains grew into an illness called Idiopathic Hypertrophic Subaortic Stenosis (IHSS) with serious consequences. He began seeing doctors at Emory University Hospital when he was 19 and was told he had a runaway heart.
“My heart would speed up for no reason. It was a congenital defect,” Crowell said. Several family members have struggled with the disease, but not all have opted for heart transplants.
“I thought it was sort of a good thing I didn’t have to dress up for PE anymore,” Crowell said. “I didn’t have to run the laps…that’s all I thought about.” But his condition continued to worsen.
“If I didn’t eat anything, I wouldn’t have chest pains. I got very used to not eating all day long until the end of the day,” he explained. Doctors told him he had cardiomyopathy when he was in his 30’s. At age 40, he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure.
“By the time I was 43, I couldn’t talk and breathe at the same time. That’s when I got my first transplant,” Crowell said.
Nine years later, his transplanted heart developed chronic rejection, a common occurrence in transplanted organs. After waiting almost a year for another heart, Crowell underwent a second transplant on December 4, 2010. This time around, he was more prepared.
“I knew what to expect, so it sort of seemed easier,” Crowell said. Since receiving his third heart, life has continued as usual. “I’m not in fear of having a heart attack every day,” he said. “I’m living a normal life.”
The two-time transplant patient said he was fortunate to have insurance to help pay for his transplants and treatment, but he knows that this is not the case for everyone. Through Three-13’s annual “Angels of Life” Hair & Fashion Show, Crowell hopes to continue gathering donations for the Georgia Transplant Foundation so the charity can continue to help others obtain a second or, like Crowell’s case, a third chance at life.