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Central Wisconsin reporter Mark Massoglia, talks about his life eight years after a heart transplant.
Tyler Rickenbach/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin

STEVENS POINT – KISS and AC/DC were the soundtrack to Mark Massoglia’s heart transplant

He’d lived years with a degenerative heart condition. Pacemakers and ventricle assistance devices helped keep him alive. Doctors told him he’d need a new heart. Like hundreds of thousands of other Americans, he was put on a waiting list for a transplant.

That waiting ended eight years ago today.

The middle-of-the night call from Madison told him a suitable donor had been found, but he and his parents would have to leave Stevens Point immediately to make a pre-dawn arrival at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics.

“At 2:50 a.m. we got a call and my mom came into the bedroom and said ‘It’s UW. What could they want at this time?’ It was … my transplant coordinator,’” Massoglia said. “She said ‘Mark we have a heart… you need to be down here by 5 a.m.’ I said OK.”

He spent the car ride listening to heavy metal. “I put the iPod on AC/DC and KISS and rocked out the whole time,” Massoglia, 48, said.

By 7:45 a.m., he was being wheeled into an operating room for the seven-and-half hour operation that would put a heart from an anonymous donor into his chest.

He recovered from the surgery and went back to work as a sports reporter for USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin in central Wisconsin. He returned to water and snow skiing, hiking, and started a long-term relationship with his girlfriend. Other than some annual checkups, he’s gone on with life.

“That new heart freed me up to get back to life back as I knew it,” said Massoglia who lives in Wisconsin Rapids. “It’s been pretty important to me.”

He knows little about his donor — or the family — behind his transplant, other than it was someone from southern Wisconsin. But he knows the decision they made, and how that decision has allowed him to continue living a good life.

Donate Life 

Stories like Massoglia’s are highlighted each April as part of Donate Life Month. Advocacy groups use the month to encourage people to think about and discuss organ, eye and tissue donation. Ideally, the month will help increase the number of people who register as donors.

About 56 percent of drivers and identification card holders are registered as donors in Wisconsin, putting the state in the top 20 for people saying “yes” to donation.

Yet there’s great variation among the state’s counties.

Some of the highest donor rates are in western Wisconsin, where rates in St. Croix and Pierce counties top 67 percent, according to an October report from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

The lowest rates are in Milwaukee County, at 44.4 percent, and Menominee County, where only 29.7…