Photo ny Barbara Gates
About Richard RAINBOW Gates
If there's one snippet of the pop lexicon that musician Richard Gates of Jamaica Plain can relate to, it's Tom Petty's 1981 line "The waiting is the hardest part."
For Gates, a bass player, occasional teacher at the Berklee College of Music, and accompanist to the likes of Suzanne Vega and Patty Larkin, the wait took four years and brought him a new heart.
A running enthusiast who had completed 12 marathons, Gates was out jogging one morning in 2000 when he had trouble breathing. His doctor ran some tests and suspected a heart attack.
At Brigham and Women's Hospital, he got the diagnosis - cardiomyopathy, a deterioration of the muscular tissue of the heart - and was told he likely had five or six years to live. Gates was told that the medical team would do the best it could with medication, but that he would not be a candidate for a heart transplant until he could no longer function outside of the hospital.
In 2001, Gates had a defibrillator surgically implanted in his chest to work as a pacemaker in case his heart went into arrhythmia. When Dr. Michael Sweeney, the surgeon who performed the procedure, learned he was a musician, "he asked me to bring in my bass and put it on so he could implant it away from the guitar strap," said Gates. " 'You have to get out there and keep playing,' he told me."
Of the 6,210 people waiting nationwide for a heart transplant in 2004, Gates was one of the lucky :
That March, he got his new heart. Even then, some scary moments followed. The day before a gig in New Jersey with singer/songwriter Kristin Cifelli, he learned that a test revealed his body was rejecting the heart. "He had to drive all the way back to Boston for some drugs, and then drove all the way back down to play our gig," said Cifelli. "Ironically, Richard has the biggest heart on the planet. He is so appreciative of every single note of music that he gets to play."