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Tommy Smith smiles during the Falmouth Road Race. At right, his niece Taylor Sherman, wife Linda Smith and family friends Emma Hilvert and Brianna Lombardo cheer him on.
In some ways, the Falmouth Road Race was the race of Tommy Smith’s life. A brand new heart beating in his chest and the determination to regain his health and active lifestyle fueled him along the seven mile-course from Woods Hole to Falmouth Heights Beach last month.
“It was an unbelievable rush,” said Smith, 56, a heart transplant recipient, of crossing the finish line Aug. 14.
For Smith, a life-long athlete, it’s been a long road to recovery since he developed heart failure several years ago. Eventually, he became so sick that he was admitted to BWH for 87 days before being implanted with a left ventricular assist device so he could go home while waiting for a transplant.
Though he was very sick, Smith and his wife Linda, a project manager for the BWH Department of Surgery, knew they were in good hands. “The care team was wonderful,” Linda Smith said. “They would always include me in the care, and they truly did everything possible to ensure Tommy had what he needed.”
That meant a visit to Walpole from nurse practitioners Leslie Griffin, APRN BC, and Colleen Smith, APRN BC. They conducted training for first responders on what to do in the event that Smith’s LVAD malfunctioned or power was lost.
Smith did his best to keep his spirits up while he waited, including announcing high school soccer games in Needham. That’s exactly what he was doing on Oct. 12, 2010, when he received a phone call. “Tommy, we have a heart for you,” said cardiologist Gilbert Mudge, MD.
It was a year and 10 days after he was implanted with the LVAD. “But who’s counting?” Smith joked.
Gregory Couper, MD, and his team performed the heart transplant Oct. 13. Smith credits Joe Foley, RN, his nurse in the Cardiac Surgery ICU, with pushing him–in a good way—to recover quickly. “He took me for walks on the unit, each one further than the last,” Smith said. “Two and a half weeks later, he walked me right out of the hospital.”
Before going home, Smith told cardiologist Michael Givertz, MD, of his goal to run the Falmouth Road Race. He began his training in January, walking briskly and eventually jogging in the months leading up to Falmouth.
On race day, Smith thought about the incredible gift of life that the donor family had given him. “I ran the whole race thinking about their son,” he said. “They have given me a chance at life again, and I’m so thankful.”
Smith is also thankful for the care he received and continues to receive in follow-up appointments at BWH. “This is the best hospital in the world,” he said. “Everybody who has treated me – and I could go on forever with their names – is so special to me.”
With Smith’s good health, he and his wife are looking forward to many more races, traveling and spending time with their children and family in the years ahead.
“It’s a new life for me,” Smith said. “It really is.”