Father of three forced to raise money as he waits, 18 months now, for a heart

Martin Vece, 46, with his three daughters on Sunday, July 31, 2016, in their Las Vegas home. He has been waiting 18 months for a heart transplant and is being kept alive by a portable heart pump. (Travis Marshall | KSNV)

A local teacher, husband and father of three is eagerly waiting for the day he'll get a new heart.

Martin Vece, 46, has been on the transplant list for a year and a half. Meanwhile, a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) is keeping him alive.

"I've had my heart disease for about 11 years. I've lived with 45 percent of the function of my heart for 10 years. About a year and a half ago, my heart took a turn for the worst, and I went out to UCLA to get evaluated for a transplant and they told me I had just gotten there in the nick of time, that I needed a transplant," said Vece. "That's how bad my heart had gotten. I was down to 15 percent heart function."

However, doctors found high pressure in his lungs because they were compensating for what his heart wasn't doing. They told him he needed open heart surgery immediately to get an LVAD, which pumps his blood for him so that the blood can reach his vital organs, and he was told until his lungs grew stronger, he wouldn't be able to get a transplant.

"It's been an emotional, a physical and a financial roller coaster ride the entire time, but I keep thinking to myself, one day I'm going to get that call that I'm going to get that heart. I don't know how long that's going to take, but it's gonna happen sooner or later. In the meantime, I keep remembering I’m alive," he said.

His lungs are now strong enough, and the Vece family is waiting for that call about a new heart. Meanwhile, Vece is trying to raise money to keep up with the out of pocket medical costs that aren't covered by health insurance, and prepare for the time during and after the transplant.

"I get a lot of, well, don't you have insurance? Yeah, I do have health insurance and actually it's really good health insurance from my teaching job, but the co-pay's are ridiculous," he said. "For example, my LVAD costs $1,800 a month, just for me to have. That's the co-pay. I take 26 different medications and the most important medication that keeps me alive, that lowers my lung pressure, costs $326 a month out of pocket co-pay. So, I'm continuously fundraising just to keep us afloat."

Vece says he also returned to work to teach English, to save up money for future medical costs. Nevada also does not have a transplant facility, so he will need to go to UCLA, like he did for the LVAD surgery.

"We had to survive basically on initial fundraising money for six months in L.A. paying for housing and food and such," he said. "Transplant patients like myself, we have to fundraise for the rest of your life."

His oldest daughter, Ava, 9, and the rest of their family had to pack up and relocate during that time to be closer to UCLA. She knows just how important her father's health is to her.

"He could even die, so it's really scary," she said. When asked what she would ask if she had one wish, she replied, "For him to get a heart."

Vece says he's always been an active and physical person, but his girls have only known him as a dad who doesn't have the energy other dads do.

"After my transplant, they're not going to know what hit them because I’m probably going to return to my old ways and get in shape again," he said. "I want to climb trees and yell like Tarzan."

Ava can't wait.

"I'm looking forward to going to the beach and playing in the waves with him because now, he can't go in the water," she said.

"You have to remain positive," he said. "Having my kids and my wife in my life is just, they're my rock. They keep me going."

If you'd like to donate to the family's funds, go here:

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