Health Matters: First heart transplant in Arkansas marks 30th anniversary

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – This month marks the 30th anniversary of the state’s first heart transplant.

It was a milestone for Baptist Health and since then technology has continued to improve.

“She was an elegant woman. Always just so kind, and she lived. She used to go hunting, fishing,” says Tim Wilson, whose mother Mary Wilson was the state’s first heart transplant patient.

“Was just very weak and tired, couldn’t do very much around the house,” he continues.

At 48-years-old, Mary was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a heart muscle disease that makes it harder for your heart to pump blood to the rest of your body.

She needed a heart and when the call came in…

“She was excited and scared, and didn’t know what to expect,” Tim recalls.

“I remember that like it was yesterday,” says Dr. John Ransom, Program Director of Baptist Health Heart Failure and Transplant Institute.

Dr. Ransom says the first heart transplant in 1989 was the beginning of the whole program.

“We used the LVADs left ventricular support devices to keep people alive before we get them transplanted,” he explains.

Over the subsequent years, that technology evolved to second and third generation heart devices.

“It just added a whole new dimension to the way we can treat heart failure,” Dr. Ransom says. “Those people that you’d expect to be dead went 90% chance of being dead in a year, now we have a 95% chance of keeping them alive with one of the methods we have.”

Within the last couple of years, Baptist performed the first total artificial heart transplant.

Huge technology improvements over the span of three decades started with one heart transplant.

It was a gift Tim Wilson will cherish for as long as he lives.

“They gave me my mom for nine more years,” he says.

Since Mary’s transplant, Dr. Ransom and his team have performed 289 transplants over the last 30 years. They do 10 to 20 a year.

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