Heart transplants: The ultimate gift of life

David Parker inspires others in the fight for their life

Since 1984, The University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center Heart Transplant Program has performed more than 900 heart transplants, as well as implanting more than 500 ventricular assist devices (VADs) — most as a way to “bridge” patients to transplant. The U-M team also provides the multidisciplinary care required for complex transplant patients and includes specialists in advanced circulatory support, cardiac critical care, nutrition and social work.

This closely integrated team of cardiac transplant surgeons and transplant cardiologists is highly skilled in treating and implanting donor hearts in patients with the most urgent cardiac needs. U-M’s high volume, vast experience and active research program makes it a leader in heart transplant surgeries.

U-M patient David Parker received a new heart in December 2012. Today, he is living a full, active life that includes walking three miles, weight training and swimming most days of the week.

David shares his story of courage and his path back to living …

David Parker and his wife, Carol

David Parker and his wife, Carol

“My name is David Parker. I am 64 years old and thankful to the University of Michigan cardiac team for my new life. I first became ill in 2001. I started with an irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation, or afib. I was in and out of the hospital getting ‘cardioverted,’ a procedure in which the heart is shocked back into normal sinus rhythm. After a while, the doctors saw that this was not going to work. So I went to the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center, where Dr. Hakan Oral and his team performed three ablations. This helped for a period of time, but the afib eventually returned.

I was getting weaker and weaker as time passed. My doctors decided the only thing that would work was a heart transplant. I was put into the hospital to try to build up my strength and was put on the heart transplant list. At this time, my organs were starting to shut down and I was told I was too sick for a heart transplant. My only other option was to have a left ventricle assist device (LVAD) inserted. An LVAD is an electrical pump that attaches to the heart and pumps blood throughout the body. With the LVAD surgery, performed by Dr. Jonathan Haft, my organs started improving. I had the LVAD for 11 months, running on batteries during the day and plugged into a wall outlet at night. During that time, I was put back on the heart transplant list.

On December 3, 2012, I received a call that a heart was available and ready. When I received the call, I couldn’t believe it. I was shaking and crying, overwhelmed with so many emotions.

We had 45 minutes to get to U-M CVC. My wife, Carol, had to pack up all of the LVAD equipment and off we went. We arrived at the hospital at 4 p.m. Dr. Francis Pagani and his transplant team began prepping me immediately. I went into surgery at 9 p.m. and came out of surgery at 4:00 a.m. with my new heart. I spent the next week or so in the hospital, recovering and getting my strength back. I was taking a considerable amount of medications, but nothing I couldn’t handle. I was committed to getting healthy and would do whatever it took to get there.

I’ve been with my new heart for 1.5 years. Ten months after the heart transplant, my donor family contacted me. We found out my donor was a 37-year-old man named Dale Rice. After communicating with the donor family, we discovered that Dale had lived with his sister just five miles from my residence. And his mother and stepfather live five miles from our cottage up north.

Since my heart transplant, all of the tests have been negative for rejection. The University of Michigan CVC team has been there for all my needs, no matter what they are. And my current cardiologist, Dr. David Dyke, keeps up with my health on a regular basis. There are no words to describe how great all of the U-M doctors, nurses and everyone involved have been in taking care of me. GO BLUE!”

Take the next step:

  • To make an appointment to evaluate your need within our Transplant Center, call a patient care representative at 1-800-333-9013.
  • Add your name to the the Michigan Organ Donor Registry.
  • Watch the Medicine Needs Victors video, a inspiring view of the campaign underway to fund breakthroughs in medicine.

Frankel-informal-vertical-sigThe University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center is the top-ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit umcvc.org.