Heart transplant

‘I was passing out’ —​ Heart transplant gives British patient a second chance at life

LEXINGTON, Kentucky (November 9, 2022) —​ Tom Napier’s heart was failing.

The 56-year-old lived in East Tennessee, working in hard rock mining and drilling. His work has taken him all over the country and beyond. He was active, walking five or six miles a day. In the fall of 2021, he started feeling unwell. Her ankles were swollen and her breath was short.

“I used to be able to run around the block, then boom, my face and my ankles started to swell, I had no energy,” Napier said. “I couldn’t move, I couldn’t breathe. I thought, ‘That’s not me.’ “

Napier made an appointment with a Tennessee cardiologist who diagnosed him with congestive heart failure. At this point he was no longer able to work, so he moved to Harlan to be closer to his sister. He continued his care with cardiologist Georges Damaa, MD, at Harlan Appalachian Regional Healthcare (ARH) Hospital.

“When I first met Tom Napier, he had already given up hope of seeing his grandchildren grow up, or even enjoying the rest of his life,” Damaa said. “One day he said to me, ‘I couldn’t take the pain any longer.’ I replied that advanced treatment is available for his heart failure.

Harlan ARH Hospital is part of the UK HealthCare Gill Heart & Vascular Institute Affiliate Network. The extensive network of community and regional hospitals statewide connects patients with advanced cardiovascular disease to specialists at the Gill Heart & Vascular Institute at UK HealthCare’s Chandler Hospital. Damaa referred Napier to Navin Rajagopalan, MD, director of the Gill Affiliate Network.

“Dr. Rajagopalan is a good friend and colleague,” Damaa said. “He rushed an appointment for Tom. I knew he would be in good hands.”

Rajagopalan describes Napier’s case as a strange case. Although he had a family history of coronary artery disease, a left heart catheterization revealed that he had no coronary blockage.

“At the end of the day, we don’t really know what caused his heart failure,” Rajagopalan said. “We know that COVID can cause heart inflammation, and it can happen with other viruses as well. It could be genetic, but he has no known family history.

Napier’s illness was sudden and his decline was rapid. On March 9, 2022, he underwent right heart catheterization, an invasive test that measures the quality of the heart’s pumping.

“When I saw him at the clinic, it was clear he wasn’t doing very well,” Rajagopalan said. “His heart was really struggling, and we needed him to get better as soon as possible.”

Napier was admitted to hospital that day. Immediately, Rajagopalan and his team began working on what was Napier’s last option: a heart transplant.

“I was afraid that I wouldn’t know what was going on or that I wouldn’t be able to see the whole picture,” Napier said. “It was the first operation I had.”

“One of the challenges with a patient like him is that we didn’t know him very long,” Rajagopalan said. “Some patients can be cured with treatment, but we didn’t have time to wait. We couldn’t say, try this and come back in six months, because he might have died by then. He realized how sick he was and he was going to do everything he could to get better. Dr. Damaa referred Mr. Napier to our program at exactly the right time before he got too sick for us to help.

On May 25, Napier underwent lengthy surgery with transplant surgeon Rajasekhar SR Malyala, MD, and got his new heart.

“It’s a weird feeling knowing you have someone else’s heart,” Napier said. “But it changed me. I was passing out. I knew I was going to die.


Six months later, Napier feels good. He can’t wait to go back up to the cardiac intensive care unit to meet the nurses, therapists and staff who treated him.

“They probably won’t recognize me,” Napier said. “Like, who’s this guy coming in here strutting around?”

He takes his convalescence day by day, following the instructions of his medical team to the letter. Because he was in good shape before his transplant, physical rehabilitation was minimal. But he still has days when his energy is low and needs to calm down.

“I’m bad because I try to rush myself,” he said. “I’m hard on myself because I want to improve. But it takes time. »

Napier spends his days driving with his girlfriend Patsy and their dog. They had been friends for years before breaking up.

“We met and started talking again,” Patsy said. “Life brought us together.”

Tom knows nothing about his donor or his family, but he would be honored to speak with them should they choose to reach out. He has a few words for anyone who is reluctant to register as an organ donor.

“I would tell them to do it because it saves a life – it saved my life,” he said. “I would have been dead, there’s no doubt about that.”


In Kentucky, more than 1,000 people are on the waiting list for an organ transplant.

Although hospitals are required by law to identify potential donors and allow the Donor Organ Procurement Program to notify families of their right to donate, anyone can register to become an organ donor by joining the Kentucky Organ Donor Registry. The Registry is a safe and secure electronic database where a person’s wishes regarding donation will be carried out as requested.

To sign up for the registry, visit http://registerme.org or sign up when you renew your driver’s license. The donor registry lets family members know that you have chosen to save and improve lives through a donation. Kentucky’s “first person consent” laws mean that a registrant’s wishes will be carried out as requested.