From police officer to transplant recipient, the amazing journey of Kevin Lopez’ heart
That Kevin Lopez is able to share the amazing story of his heart is a medical miracle.
A retired police officer, former EMT and fireman, and US Air Force veteran, he was only 36 when he had his first heart attack.
As a fitness fanatic who watches his diet and goes to the gym several days a week, Kevin remembers that day in January 2005 vividly. He and his partner on the police force had just finished an undercover operation. He remembers not feeling “right.”
Kevin became sick twice before reaching his office at the Plano police department. Worried that Kevin didn’t look good, his partner drove him home. On the way, Kevin got sick again.
The last thing he remembers is getting out of the car to be sick. Later, he was told he had a major heart attack.
The firefighters who responded to the scene quickly performed CPR. They told him he was gone for about five minutes before they detected a faint pulse. They used a defibrillator and transported him to the hospital.
Kevin’s clogged artery was opened with a stent. Two years later, following another heart attack in the same area of his heart, another stent was placed in his artery. In the years that followed, he experienced 20 additional heart attacks. Each attack took a toll on his heart and created scar tissue.
Soon, he began experiencing electrical problems with his heart. His ejection fraction, the rate at which his heart was pumping blood out of his left ventricle to the rest of his body, was only 23, well below the normal 67.
He had a defibrillator implanted to shock his heart into normal rhythm and over the ensuing years, the defibrillator delivered more than 23 shocks. At first, there weren’t many shocks, but the number steadily increased as Kevin’s heart failure progressed.
“Just before the defibrillator shocked my heart, I remember experiencing tunnel vision, with everything going black,” he said. “Then, pow, the shock. Coming out from the defibrillation was like being in a movie where things gradually faded in. Each shock was scarier than the previous one.”
In 2020, Kevin had a maze ablation procedure at Baylor Scott & White Heart and Vascular Hospital Dallas, where areas inside and outside of his heart were cauterized in an attempt to stop the abnormal electrical activity.
In early 2022, physicians told Kevin he was in congestive heart failure. By February of the next year, Kevin said he was “barely hanging on by a thread.” After a visit with his cardiologist that February, he was admitted to the hospital. The next morning in the cath lab, the interventional cardiologist knelt by the table and told Kevin his heart was “done.”
He needed a new heart.
“I had been expecting to hear those words for some time,” Kevin said, “but it still hit me like a ton of bricks. I was in shock for several days.”
The process to get Kevin listed on the heart transplant list started immediately. In the meantime, he was discharged with an IV bag of medication that Kevin calls “rocket fuel” that improved his condition significantly. He was added to the transplant list in May. By the end of August his heart was deteriorating, so his medical team decided to admit him to Baylor Scott & White Heart and Vascular Hospital on Sept. 28, 2022, until he received a new heart.
The call came 25 days later at 2:19 AM. At 11 AM that same morning, Kevin received his new heart.
Kevin had opted to be considered for a “higher risk” heart—in this case a heart from a donor who had Hepatitis C. His transplant surgeon reassured him that the heart was strong and while there was no guarantee that the Hep C could be eliminated, chances were very good. He also told Kevin he would recommend the heart to friends and family if they needed a new heart. After seven weeks on an anti-Hep C drug, tests showed no trace of Hep C in his new heart.
Today, Kevin is nearing the end of his recovery and he will soon participate in cardiac rehab. His daughter created a website devoted to telling Kevin’s amazing journey step by step.
“The support from my family, friends, co-workers and complete strangers has been humbling to say the least,” Kevin said. “My outlook on life now is that there’s a pinpoint of light that is getting super bright and wider and wider all the time.”
With newfound energy and optimism, Kevin can’t wait to get back to enjoying life without limitations. He also hopes to use his story to inspire others.
“The sky’s the limit,” he said. “I can’t wait to do all the things I used to do. My goal is to return to work and to pursue motivational speaking to share my story with others.”
Better tools make it easier
We all have different healthcare needs. Handle them your way with the MyBSWHealth app. Download the app today and take a hands-on approach to your healthcare.