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Ore. Man Survives Two Heart Transplants

September 5, 2003

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) _ The third heart proved to be the charm for Eldon Hickey.

Hickey’s original heart gave out in 1986 and the replacement conked out eight months later. The third heart, extracted from a Portland man who died in a motorcycle accident, is still going strong.

By surviving 16 years after a second heart transplant, Hickey has beaten the medical odds.

``I literally have always felt I’m living a second life that has been given to me in some kind of trust that I dare not fritter away,″ he said.

In those years Hickey has studied and taught the Bible, watched his children grow up and have children of their own, and buried his mother and father. Most people who had repeat heart transplants around the time he did are long since dead.

The United Network for Organ Sharing has records of nearly every repeat heart transplant since 1988, the year after Hickey’s second transplant. Of the 139 patients who underwent repeat heart transplants from 1988-90, 78 percent have died.

Hickey was lucky to have a wife who refused to accept the grim prognosis from doctors after he suffered a heart attack in December 1986, when the couple were living in Denver. The heart attack destroyed the part of his heart that controls the organ’s rhythm; doctors had to restart his heart 40 times while treating him.

One week after the heart attack, a large clot developed in his heart, and Hickey fell into a coma for three days. The doctors told Lola Hickey to prepare herself and to gather her family.

But Lola wasn’t ready to watch her husband die. One of the doctors told her about the heart transplant program at the University of Utah Health Sciences Center.

Hickey was accepted into Utah’s program, and on Dec. 30, 1986, the heart of a 38-year-old man was transplanted into his chest. But Hickey suffered numerous complications and ``felt lousy″ months later.

In August 1987, he suffered another heart attack and collapsed. Two weeks later, the heart of a 27-year-old Portland man, with matching blood type and size, became available and was implanted in his chest.

Doctors told him he could expect to live five years. But Hickey kept going. In 1998, he and his wife moved to Corvallis. In 2001, they moved to Eugene.

Dr. Ray Hershberger, who directs the heart failure and cardiac transplantation program at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, said the key to survival is medical compliance. That means taking medications without fail, getting lab tests done and keeping medical appointments.

But Hickey has had something else going for him _ luck.

The second heart Hickey received was probably a close match to his own body’s immunology, meaning it was less likely to be rejected.

``Part of that is just luck of the draw,″ Hershberger said.

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