Thankful for every minute: Triple-transplant patient tells his story

A rare condition left a 46-year-old man in need of a triple transplant to survive. Doctors at Houston's Methodist Hospital gave him that chance.

HOUSTON Walt McGuire needed the expertise of a team of doctors at Methodist Hospital, multiple donors willing to offer the gift of life, and a good dose of the miraculous to get his second chance.

KHOU 11 News first told you about McGuire last September. Diagnosed with a disease called amyloidosis -- where proteins tangle, twist, and eventually destroy internal organs he was told by specialists that he would need a triple transplant to survive. Doctors arrested the progression of the amyloidosis, but the damage to his heart, liver and kidneys was already too severe.

Other hospitals in the country offer single transplants for McGuire s condition, but only Methodist in Houston was willing to offer him all three transplants preferably from the same donor.

I feel sad that someone will have to perish in order for me to survive. I guess that s the thing that hits me most you know, he said last September from his hospital bed at Methodist, where a balloon-assist device was helping his failing heart keep pumping. The family s motto is I will. So, I have too much to live for.

As the weeks went by, there were several false alarms. In one case, a matching heart was found and McGuire was prepped for surgery, only to learn the heart he was to receive had been too damaged in the attempt to save the person who eventually died.

But on day 157 of his wait in that Methodist Hospital bed, the call finally came.

This whole episode was quite unusual, said Dr. A. Osama Gaber, MD, Director of Transplantation for Methodist Hospital.

Unusual, because the final hours of Walt McGuire s heart ticked away like no one expected.

McGuire went into surgery at 11 p.m. Nine hours later, doctors approached his wife, Sherry.

I took a moment at a time. One minute at a time, said Sherry McGuire. Some people say an hour at a time. But at that point it was a minute at a time.

Because the time had not gone as doctors had hoped.

At five o clock it was clear that the new heart was not working, said Dr. Matthias Loebe, MD, the Surgical Director of Thoracic Transplant at Methodist s J.C. Walter Jr. Transplant Center.

Loebe s team had removed McGuire s diseased heart and replaced it with a donor heart. But it would not respond they way they wanted it to. It would not beat properly. Doctors estimated its output at just 20 percent. Medication and time can, in some cases, eventually solve a problem like this, but McGuire was termed too fragile to take that chance. He would need another donor. So as McGuire stayed on a heart bypass machine for a longer time than his surgeons had planned, Loebe and his team began working the phones.

They would need to find another donor immediately. They needed a miracle. Remember that finding the first matching donor for McGuire had taken 157 days.

To find another heart, which to find it in this amount of time is almost a miracle. I would say it s a miracle, said Dr. Gaber.

The miracle happened that same morning. Ben Taub Hospital is just a few blocks away. Someone matching McGuire s blood and tissue type had just passed away. Loebe, one of the leading heart transplant surgeons in the country, walked to Ben Taub to retrieve the donor heart himself.

In this city at that time all we had to do was walk across the street, get a heart and come back, that s just almost unheard of, said Dr. Gaber.

It s just a pure blessing. I mean, there are no other words. It s miraculous, said Sherry McGuire.

That s the only thing I can call it was, well, is miraculous, Walt McGuire said, sitting in his living room several weeks after the successful surgery. I ve been blessed.

The miraculous second attempt at McGuire s heart transplant was successful. The morning after that surgery, he received a kidney transplant. But he didn t need the third surgery the liver transplant after all. At least not yet. Doctors said that the transplant of a healthy heart is making his liver improve on its own.

Having been given a kidney from one person a heart from another is just overwhelming, said McGuire, who celebrated his 46th birthday in April.

It s hard to describe. It s the ultimate gift. I ve been I guess kept around for some reason and I m not quite sure what it is yet.

One of the reasons, for sure, is his 9-year-old daughter, Cara, who waited those 157 days and more for her dad to come home. The McGuires also have two adult children and a new grandchild.

Now he has more time with them, all thanks to doctors and donors.

The ones you really have to thank are the families of the organ donors who make this available and feasible, said Loebe.

I just feel like we re just so blessed, so fortunate, said Sherry McGuire. We just thank God every day for the donor families because if it wasn t for them he wouldn t be here.

They ve given, not only me, but my whole family a second chance at life, Walt added. I have thankfulness for every day, every minute.


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