Name: Ed Sarno
Location: North Reading, MA
Diagnosis: Chemotherapy-Induced Cardiomyopathy
Transplanted: March 11, 2017
Cancer and Heart Transplant Survivor Gives Back with HeartBrothers House: ‘You’ve got to be a fighter’
After surviving two grueling battles with cancer as a young man, Ed Sarno was at the top of his game as a CFO for the Boston realty company Boyd/Smith and Boston Residential Group. He had just received a clean bill of health in the fall of 2016 when the unthinkable happened.
“I had just come from the gym and I wasn’t feeling that well. I figured I’d get in my car, turn on the AC, and get some air. I parked near the Fenway area. That was at 9 a.m. I didn’t wake up until six that night. The car was still running. And I couldn’t catch my breath.”
Sarno was suffering from cardiomyopathy brought on by one of the chemotherapy drugs he had taken years earlier. But until that fateful day in November, he had no symptoms at all.
He was rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital where doctors put him into a coma for six weeks. When he woke up, he had had four surgeries, including one to place an LVAD (Left Ventricular Assist Device) in his heart. The wires were sticking out of his stomach and connected to a box around his waist.
“I lost all my muscle tone. I couldn’t speak or swallow. I had to learn how to do all that stuff all over again,” he remembered.
The LVAD became infected and doctors told Sarno he needed a heart transplant. Luckily, a heart became available in March. Surgeons performed the transplant that saved his life.
“The way I look at it, I’m just happy to wake up every morning,” said Sarno, who is now 62 and still works full time at Boyd/Smith, where he oversees all financial operations at Church Park Apartments on Massachusetts Avenue.
He’s led four refinancings, generating more than $550 million. He’s also been involved in the development of more than $200 million in other residential and commercial properties around Boston.
Since his transplant, his daughter got married and had two children.
“Without the new heart, I would have missed all of that.”
A nurse at Mass General connected Sarno to the HeartBrothers Foundation, which serves thousands of heart failure patients and their families. He became good friends with HeartBrothers co-founder Pat Sullivan, and learned about Sullivan’s dream of opening a HeartBrothers House, where patients and families could stay while undergoing treatment,
Sarno immediately thought about Church Park as a perfect location for the HeartBrothers House.
“It’s part of giving back,” he said. “I had a lot of people help me on the way. I’m pretty fortunate.”
Dozens of patients and families have stayed at the HeartBrothers House since it opened in the spring of 2021. Church Park is located close to most of Boston’s major hospitals and features parking, a doorman, and other luxury amenities. Currently, Church Park has two apartments set aside for HeartBrothers House, but Sarno hopes the number will increase.
“I’m hoping to see the housing grow. We’re getting there.”
Sarno, who lives with his wife Joanne in North Reading, tries not to look back at what he’s been through. Instead, he keeps his focus on the future.
“I like to keep busy,” he said. In addition to working full time, he is restoring a 1971 Chevelle and enjoys boating near his summer home on Lake Winnipesaukee.
So, what is Ed Sarno’s secret to never giving up, despite all the challenges he’s been through?
“Determination,” he said. “You’ve got to be a fighter to get through any of this. And you need a good medical team behind you. You have to believe that you’re going to get a heart and it’s going to be fine for you.
“My goal is to enjoy the rest of my life.”