Lewis Huff Jr. knows what it’s like to have only two weeks to live. To have doctors say his body is shutting down, his heart and kidneys deteriorating and turning off from the inside.

But a Sept. 11 heart transplant turned his ailing health around.

“Nobody’s any more thankful than I am right now,” said Mr. Huff, 55, as tears welled in his eyes as he sat inside his 38th Street home.

Surgery at Rochester’s Strong Memorial Hospital followed weeks where his family thought he’d be OK. He was losing weight and he had good color in his face, according to his wife, Deborah.

“He was doing all that because he was literally dying,” she said.

Mr. Huff can now do all the walking around the neighborhood he wants, when before he could barely make it to the end of his driveway.

When the weather’s bad, he hops on his treadmill. All this, less than three months after having a 21-year-old man from North Carolina’s heart placed in his chest.

Strong Memorial’s Dr. Todd Massey, the hospital’s heart transplant surgeon, flew down to North Carolina to check out the potential heart and then performed the extraction.

Afterwards, he immediately flew back to Rochester where Huff was waiting — with his chest cavity opened on the operating table — to have the transplant.

There’s nothing like the fear he felt being wheeled down in the gurney to the operating room, Mr. Huff said.

Family members were surprised when the typical eight-hour procedure saw him lying open on the table for just more than four hours.

Mrs. Huff was waiting in the hospital lobby when she got the call at 9:55 p.m.

She, along with the couple’s two sons, Lewis III and Michael, went in to visit as he recovered.

They knew he was OK when he signaled to them with a thumbs up.

The night of the transplant was just a continuation of the highly accommodating staff at the hospital, the Huffs said.

Massey, along with Nurse Practitioner Jean Huether and Heart Failure and Transplant Program Director Dr. Leway Chen, all treated the family kindly, even letting them spend the night on many occasions in a hospital conference room so they could stay close to their husband and father.

Mr. Huff recovered quickly, sitting up in a chair the day after surgery, and then walking around his hospital floor just hours later.

The whole experience was like being in a movie, both Mrs. and Mr. Huff said.

“It’s like it’s not real and your mind really doesn’t comprehend it,” Mr. Huff said. “It’s unbelievable.”

Mr. Huff has to go for a checkup every two weeks, and he probably won’t be able to return to the job he held for 13 years as a welder at the New York Power Authority. But having recently celebrated his birthday, his wife’s birthday and his wedding anniversary, he has a greater appreciation for what’s important in life — that being his three grandchildren, Michael, Lacey and Lauren.

“It’s a second life,” Mr. Huff said. “No doubt about it.”

Contact Aaron Besecker

at (716) 282-2311, Ext. 2263.

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