NORFOLK -- Seventeen people die each day waiting for an organ transplant. One recipient is now encouraging people to keep this in mind and sign up to donate. 

As the country saw its first-ever successful pig-heart transplant last month, Dr. Keith Vrbicky in Norfolk recovers from his own heart transplant. He explained, being on the other side of healthcare changed him in more ways than one.

Dr. Vrbicky grew up in small-town Nebraska, inspired by the Clarkson's local physician to pursue medicine.

"I think being in healthcare is a vocation," he said. He said it's magical to see the babies he once delivered now deliver their own babies.

But that passion was interrupted last Labor Day.

"I was delivering babies and started feeling congested, lost my appetite," he said. At first, he supposed it would be COVID-19. Multiple tests denied that, and as his condition got worse, he sought out doctors of his own. 

Soon, he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure " -- Which really blew me away because I'd never been sick a day in my life," he said.

Yet within 12 hours of being on a donor list, Vbricky miraculously was matched with a heart and given the precarious transplant.

"About six weeks now I came back to the office and am really enjoying that," he said.

It wasn't easy. He lost 25 pounds, and his muscles deteriorated.

It helps that his patients of 40 years are supportive.

"They send cards, give hugs," he said.

Now, "I have more empathy and patience for my patients now," he said. Vrbicky said he hopes to inspire others to sign up to be donors. 

Meanwhile, his son is in his last year of residency -- having just had a baby and planning to join his father's practice.

You can sign up to be a heart donor when you renew your license, or at: https://dhhs.ne.gov/Pages/Organ-Donation.aspx. According to Donor Network West, 95% of Americans are in favor of being a donor but only 58% are registered. Yet, just one donor can save up to eight lives.