Patient Story: Tommy, Heart Transplant Recipient

They have given me a chance at life again, and I’m so thankful.

Early on October 12, 2010, cardiologist Gilbert Mudge, MD, called Tommy Smith, 56, of Walpole, MA, with important news — “Tommy, we have a heart for you.”

The following day, Tommy Smith had a new heart. Less than one year later, Tommy was using that heart to compete in the Falmouth Road Race, a 7.2 mile running event along the coast of Cape Cod.

Road to Recovery

Tommy Smith was 41 when he had a heart attack in 1996. He went back to work after the heart attack, but his condition became progressively worse.

He managed fairly well with a defibrillator for several years, but eventually developed heart failure. His condition became so severe that he spent 87 days in the hospital before being fitted with a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) in 2009. The LVAD served to keep his heart pumping and enabled him to go home while he waited for a transplant.

But Tommy wasn’t that anxious to go home, as he had come to rely on the attentive care provided by the comprehensive staff here. “I wanted to take them home with me,” said Tommy.

A Long Wait Pays Off

Tommy was listed for a transplant in 2003 and came to the hospital three times for a potential transplant before finally getting a viable heart on the fourth try.

Despite his condition and the stress of waiting for a heart, he was confident about the ultimate outcome. “The care team was wonderful,” he said. “The nursing staff in the hospital is way beyond bar none. I didn’t have to ask twice for anything. They really worked as a team.”

He received what he ultimately needed on October 13, 2010. But Tommy didn’t have much time to relax. Following the surgery, Joe Foley, RN, offered Tommy a proposal – if Tommy followed his orders, he would have him out of the hospital in 2½ weeks. Joe counseled, and Tommy listened. Joe took Tommy on progressively longer walks, and although Tommy was fatigued, he didn’t falter. Two and a half weeks later, Joe walked Tommy out of the hospital.

A New Life

Tommy wasn’t about to waste his gift.

As a longtime athlete, from playing hockey at Needham (MA) High in the 1970s to running 5-8 miles daily after work before he had his heart attack, Tommy was eager to become active again. Three months after the transplant, he strapped on his ice skates and headed to the local rink. “That was the most unbelievable rush I ever had,” said Tommy. “I had the whole ice to myself.”

But that rush wasn’t enough. He told his doctors that he intended to run the Falmouth Road Race. The doctor told Tommy that was a good goal, but also warned him not to be disappointed if he didn’t achieve his goal.

Tommy, however, didn’t plan on failing, so he started training and kept on progressing. “I was determined,” said Tommy. And on August 14, 2011, less than one year after receiving his new heart, he started and finished the Falmouth Road Race.

Pushing him along that day was the thought of the donor’s family. “I ran the whole race thinking about their son,” he explained. “They have given me a chance at life again, and I’m so thankful.”

Tommy would like to meet the donor’s family one day so that he could express this gratitude in person. And he encourages other people to make a similar commitment to organ donation. “Check that box off,” he said. “It means so much to save somebody else’s life.”

The Finish

How did Tommy fare in the race? Less than one year after his transplant, with friends, family, and strangers cheering him on, he finished with a smile.

You could say that he was the day’s biggest winner.

Today

Tommy is still enjoying the new lease on life that this gift has awarded him. He is still an avid supporter of the hockey community. As of September 2017, he will have participated in 11 Boston Heart Walks hosted annually by the American Heart Association.

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