Lemuel Bradshaw: Heart Transplant Recipient October 31, 2007
What do you do after you've had a heart transplant? If you ask Lemuel Bradshaw, he'll tell you that you can finish raising your young family, work in banking and go back to college in anticipation of a new career. And he's only 38 years old.
Lemuel's heart problems were diagnosed when he was 28 - and it took awhile because most physicians don't expect to see a young, healthy man with an enlarged heart. The problem was caught by an emergency room doctor, Pamela Cooper, MD, on his third visit to the ER. He credits Dr. Cooper with initiating the process that saved his life.
Medical experts speculate the Lemuel's problems were originally caused by a virus that settled in the heart muscle, causing a condition called cardiomyopathy. "I had bronchitis. I took antibiotics and thought it was done," he comments. But he found himself slowing down. "I couldn't walk more than 50 feet without stopping to rest, so I knew something was wrong."
His body was not processing fluid because of his enlarged heart. Once he was tested, he was sent to the ICU and specialists were called in. They told him he needed a heart transplant or he would die. "I was convinced they had made a mistake and they were talking about somebody else, not me."
"I was never really sick before and men, at whatever age, think they are bullet-proof anyway," continues Lemuel. Doctors recommended a heart transplant, but he refused. "All I could see was becoming a vegetable. When you are 28 years old, that's frightening. I said to more than one doctor 'just give me medication and I'll be okay.'"
Initially he thought the medication was improving his condition, but he later realized it was only a bridge to transplant. "I thought it was a cure because I started getting my strength back." He also had a pacemaker and a defibrillator, a device to shock a heart that has developed an erratic rhythm. "When it got to where I couldn't take the trash out without lying down on the driveway to rest, I knew I had a real problem." And then his defibrillator went off. He survived the event, but finally consented to the transplant. At the time, his children were 9, 10 and 16 years old. He was 29. Michael Mueller, MD, Medical Director for the Transplant Program and Lemuel's cardiac surgeon told him he had about an 85 percent chance to live five more years after transplant. Lemuel told him that didn't seem like much of a life-span to him.
After he recovered, he began an exercise program to improve his health. He's proud that he can compete physically with other younger athletes. His outlook for the future continues to be positive. "I now tell everybody that I'm a 38-year-old man with a 59-year-old heart (the age of his donor)."
Lemuel's Life Today
"I feel great - so far, so good," he says. "I guess you could say I'm not typical, but then in the same breath, I am. I know some people who have had complications after surgery. I take about 60 pills a day."
He is busy and active. He still works out several hours three times a week, works part time at the gym and attends classes five days a week. On the weekends, he is active in civic organizations and sees friends. He's also become a grandfather. After his youngest child, now 18, started college in the fall, he quit his banking job to following a life-long dream to get a degree of his own.
"It's something to be back on campus," says Lemuel. "Some of the students are younger than my own daughters, which I realize when I hear them say the same things. I'm twice as old as they are."
His goal for applying his learning and skills is to promote the value of organ donation and causes surrounding it, making people more aware of the value of caring for their health and increasing donated organs. "I want to work full time for an organization that allows me to do that. I know I've found my calling. If I am not THE face of organ donation, I am A face."
An energetic and dynamic communicator, he volunteers his time as a speaker on behalf of organ donation. "Most people don't believe this could happen to them," says Lemuel. "During public appearances, I stress that this isn't a disease like cancer or AIDS or diabetes, where we are looking for a cure. The only cure for failing hearts is a new organ and there's a shortage. My goal is to explain to people that although science plays a part, the bottom line is that people are the only cure. More people need to say they want to be donors if tragedy happens. At least something positive comes out of it."
One of Lemuel's volunteer gigs was to emcee the 20th anniversary celebration of the Seton Heart Specialty Care and Transplant Center. He introduced Dr. Mueller, who remembered Lemuel's initial reservations and said: "I guess I'm off the hook now since you made it past the five-year mark." Lemuel celebrated the eighth anniversary of his transplant in October.
"Life is good," he concludes. "It gave me the opportunity to see my kids grow up, to see two grandsons and a granddaughter, finally decide to go back to school and to pursue goals of my own."
Lemuel has packed a lot of living into the past eight years and has great expectations for the rest of his life. "Heart transplant recipients never want to look like invalids, so the best compliment someone can give me is to not know I've had a transplant," he says.
Seton Family of Hospitals
As the only heart transplant center in Central Texas, the Seton Transplant Center provides services for patients with heart failure, which may included advanced medical therapy, heart transplants and ventricular assist devices as well as providing follow-up care for patients who have already been transplanted.
Since the center opened in 1986, Seton has transplanted close to 300 hearts and averages about 22 heart transplants annually. More than 85 percent of the Center's adult patients survive a year or more after surgery.
Patients with heart failure who do not qualify for transplant can also receive advanced care at the Heart Failure Clinic or mechanical cardiac assist devices.