The perception regarding heart disease is often skewed, despite the fact that heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in the world. In the United States alone, 20% of Americans will experience heart failure within their lifetimes. Heart failure can be caused by a number of different issues, including an improper diet or lack of exercise over the course of years, genetic factors, and complications related to other illnesses. At times, however, heart disease can seem to be inexplicable.
We know that in otherwise healthy individuals, there are ways to lower your risk of heart disease, including eating low sodium diet meals and staying fit. But once signs of heart failure have started to present themselves, patients may often need to seek serious treatments. Fortunately, heart transplants have made it possible for individuals to live through heart failure and continue on to live long and relatively healthy lives. Below are some remarkable stories about notable heart transplant recipients.
1. Richard Gullickson
Richard Gullickon’s heart transplant made headlines due to his abnormally long survival following his transplant, hitting 29 years in 2020. This marks him as one of the longest-living patients following a heart transplant. Whereas early heart transplant patients only survived for weeks or months following the surgery, Gullickson has lived 29 years after his surgery and has made it to the ripe old age of 83. This is a lifespan similar to most healthy people who stay active and eat low sodium diet meals. Gullickson reports having a great deal of energy, and interestingly, he has survived with only one transplant, where many patients require multiple transplants as their transplanted organs require replacement. Gullickon’s story gives hope that as heart transplant procedures and anti-rejection medications advance, patients may potentially consistently live long and healthy lifespans.
2. Jack Palmer
In 2018, eight-month-old Jack Palmer became one of the youngest heart-lung transplant recipients in over a decade. At the time, Palmer was only one of 19 infants under the age of one to undergo a heart-lung transplant in the United States. Born with an underdeveloped heart and damaged longs, Palmer required a transplant in order to survive infancy. In fact, doctors did not initially expect Jack to survive more than a few days. Once he lived for two months, doctors agreed to attempt a double transplant, which is arduous for anyone but is especially so for an infant. Following a successful surgery in May 2018, Jack was discharged in August 2018. Though patients like Jack often need to continue through life with strict low sodium diet meals and medications to maintain their transplanted organs, there is hope that these types of treatments may buy them the time they need to receive life-extending treatments for the long term.
3. Ryan Zinn
While Richard Gullickson received his transplant as an adult, Ryan Zinn notably has had the same transplanted heart for over 30 years since receiving it as an adolescent. Zinn’s transplant is significant because adults and adolescents often respond differently to transplants. After being diagnosed with cardiomyopathy as a young teen, Zinn initially turned down a transplant in favor of a drug protocol out of fear. However, after a minor stroke, Ryan agreed to the transplant, which was successful and has allowed him to live well into adulthood. Without programs to help heart failure patients like the United Network For Organ Sharing, patients like Zinn would likely not survive in the long term.
4. Kyle Garlett
UK resident Kyle Garlett’s story is remarkable in that he actually beat cancer four times before experiencing the warning signs of heart failure. Chemotherapy actually lead to his heart issues, due to the fact that it damaged his heart and scarred his lungs. After five years on the waiting list, Garlett received a transplant and got a new chance at life for the fifth time.
While maintaining low sodium diet meals throughout life and exercising can keep you healthy, there are a variety of factors that go into heart failure. But as these stories show you, nobody should give up hope when a heart transplant is an option. Rather, they should hang on and fight for a new heart!