Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Elvis impersonator living like a king after organ transplants

Ira Masnikoff, a former Elvis impersonator, at his home in Lighthouse Point, won the “Celebration of Life’’ organ donation. Photo: CANDACE WEST/

No matter how dire the future looks and how little hope there is when you think you are going to die, the lesson in this article is never give up. Masnikoff's story also highlights the importance of loved ones to help you through; his wife and family would not let him quit.

By Kirstin Maguire - McClatchy Newspapers

Elvis is alive. At least in the form of impersonator Ira Masnikoff, 63, who would not be alive today if he had not received organ transplants.

“I’m very blessed and very lucky,” said the Lighthouse Point resident, sporting long, black sideburns, gold-rimmed glasses and an Elvis belt buckle. “Many times, the doctors didn’t think I was going to make it.”

“I was down to my last few days, hooked up to different machines,” he said. “I was just hoping I would last another day or two.”

But Masnikoff is one of the lucky ones — he received organ donations. Today, more than 100,000 people nationwide are waiting for an organ.

On Oct. 14, almost seven years after his first transplant, Masnikoff won South Florida’s “Celebration of Life” essay contest. The contest is part of an organ donation educational campaign sponsored by the Life Alliance Organ Recovery Agency at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, and Broward County Public Libraries.

“Ira wrote about the good of organ donations; he didn’t care about prizes,” said Ken Trachy, Life Alliance’s director of special projects. “He feels so good about the transplant and donation and giving back.”

His health problems began in 2000. In four years’ time, he had three heart attacks and open-heart surgery, but “that’s all the little stuff,” Masnikoff said.

The serious illnesses flared up about seven years ago, when both of Masnikoff’s kidneys and his small intestine were failing. He gave up his stage shows and went on dialysis for more than a year, getting his nutrients from intravenous tubes.

The feeding tubes made Masnikoff sicker. He was in and out of the hospital every six weeks with infections from the IVs. “The same thing that was saving him was killing him,” said his wife of 37 years, Sandy Masnikoff. Then his skin started turning yellow. That’s when he found out he had jaundice caused by an ailing liver.

Three months later, on Jan. 9, 2002, Masnikoff’s wait was over. He and his wife received a call at 2 a.m. that a young Broward County resident who had died had organs that matched his.

“I was so happy,” Masnikoff wrote in his winning essay. “Both my wife and I had tears running down our faces driving down to the hospital.”

After a 15-hour surgery at Jackson Memorial Hospital, he had a new kidney and small intestine.

Masnikoff stayed healthy for about five years, until his new kidney failed. Again, Masnikoff was hooked up to machines, relying on needles and tubes to keep him alive. Again, doctors put his name on the organ wait list.

Masnikoff underwent a second transplant on Dec. 7, 2007. A few weeks later, he was recovering when he came down with double pneumonia.

Scared for his life, Masnikoff battled the pneumonia in intensive care while the two people beside him died of the same sickness.

“Every day, you think you are going to die,” Masnikoff said. For the past few months, Masnikoff has been healthy. He credits his family, especially his wife, with his recovery. Many times he wanted to quit, but his wife would not let him.

“I learned what’s most important,” Sandy said, her bright blue eyes swelling with tears. “It’s not so important to have such a clean house when you know someone is depending on you.”

Good-humored, Masnikoff has come to cherish every day. Even when he was sick in the hospital, the one-time magician would put on magic shows with the nurses.

“He has a strong spirit,” said Dr. Gennaro Selvaggi, one of Masnikoff’s transplant surgeons at Jackson Memorial Hospital. “He’s been through thick and thin and always has a good attitude.”

“You Have the Power to Save Lives – Sign Your Donor Card & Tell Your Loved Ones of Your Decision”

Register to be a donor in Ontario or Download Donor Cards from Trillium Gift of Life Network
For other Canadian provinces click here

In the United States, be sure to find out how to register in your state at or Download Donor Cards from OrganDonor.Gov

Your generosity can save up to eight lives with heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas and small intestine transplants. One tissue donor can help up to 100 other people by donating skin, corneas, bone, tendon, ligaments and heart valves

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