After widowmaker heart attack, transplant gave Tim a second chance


by Megan McCook

Oct 10, 2016

After about 30 minutes of exercise, Tim Gallagher felt unusually fatigued and decided to lie down. From the unbearable tightness in his chest, he knew something was wrong.

That day changed his life.

Tim’s heart suffered massive damage when he experienced a widowmaker heart attack in his home. The left ventricle in his heart was 100 percent blocked.

Related: Are you at risk for heart disease?

“That was a day I probably should have — could have — passed away,” Tim said.

He was taken to the hospital, and because his condition was rapidly deteriorating, his spouse inquired about a heart transplant for her husband.

Although transplantation is not customary for most heart attack victims, Tim’s wife knew the situation was dire and wanted a second opinion.

He was transported to Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas where medical experts performed a rapid evaluation to confirm that a heart was needed.

“Our job was to keep the rest of [Tim’s] body in good enough shape so that he could get a transplant eventually,” said Shelley Hall, MD, chief of transplant cardiology and mechanical circulatory support/heart failure at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas.

Placed on a temporary support device called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), Tim was as close to death as he could be, because a machine was now doing the work for his heart. He was placed on the transplant list Status 1A, meaning he likely could not have survived more than a week without a transplant.

“My odds of survival were probably less than winning the lottery — 2000 receiving a transplant annually,” Tim said. “Statistically, I’m think I’m a miracle. I think I got the best treatment possible.”

“The fact that a heart came along — a perfect heart came along for him at that time…it’s really nothing short of a miracle.”

“Success stories like Tim’s make it all worth it,” said Brian Lima, MD, a cardiothoracic surgeon‎ and surgical director of mechanical circulatory at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas. “The fact that a heart came along — a perfect heart came along for him at that time…it’s really nothing short of a miracle.”

“To be on the edge, and be able to step back from the edge when you know there is certain death in one direction and there is life in another…you know, every day is a brand new day to give something back, to make something good happen for others,” Tim said. “Every day is a day I didn’t have.”

If you’re interested in learning more about Baylor Scott & White Health’s heart and vascular care, speak with a physician

About the Author

Megan is the system director of digital engagement for Baylor Scott & White Health .

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