News Seth Stratton | 5 years ago

30 Years Later, This Heart Transplant Patient Is Still Thriving

Nearing 30 years of survival, James is one of the longest-living heart transplant recipients in the world.

James Brock will never forget the day doctors told him he wasn’t likely to live much longer. He’d already had a heart attack, and, now, doctors said his congestive heart failure was so bad that he needed bypass surgery. “I was in my 40s, and my heart was completely worn out,” says James, a Cheraw, SC, native and former railroad worker. Without the surgery, he was told he had no chance of making it. With the surgery, he still only had a slim chance of surviving. That was more than 30 years ago. Two years after that grim prognosis, he became one of the first patients at Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute to get a heart transplant. Today, 29 years later, he’s still going strong. “I got an extra 29 years of life,” says James, now 77. “I’ve been able to do so many things I wouldn’t have gotten to do.”

Heart Trouble

Heart problems ran in James’ family. His father had died from a heart condition at age 47, and so had his brother at age 58. “Heart trouble just seemed to be inherited,” says James, a father of three. He had his first heart attack at age 35 – and from there, things only got worse. Over the years, he was in and out of the hospital for worsening heart trouble. Finally, as he reached his late 40s, his heart was on the verge of giving out. What James needed was a new heart. The year was 1987 and, fortunately for him, Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute had recently started offering heart transplants. Doctors put him on the waiting list. After seven months of waiting, a heart finally became available. James and his wife, Louise, made the trip to Charlotte, and doctors got him ready for the transplant. At the time, Sanger’s heart transplant program was only a little over a year old. “James was one of our earliest transplant patients,” says Ted Frank, MD, a cardiologist with Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute’s advanced heart failure and transplant team. “We started our program in 1986, and he got his transplant in 1987.” James and Louise knew a transplant was what he needed to have another chance at life. “We put our trust in these doctors, and we knew we were going to be OK,” says Louise. The transplant itself went off without a hitch. “The last thing I remember is that they were trying to get an IV in,” he says. “When I woke up the next day, I had a new heart.”

A Good Life

For the first time in decades, James had a healthy heart. While he never returned to the railroad, he was able to resume favorite pastimes like hunting, fishing and taking care of the yard. “I still do yard work, even today,” he says. He also got to travel and see more of the country. “We’ve been on lots of trips, and gotten to go all over the place,” he says. A highlight? Amish country in Ohio. Most special of all are the extra years he’s been able to spend with his family. “I’ve gotten to meet my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren. I’ve gotten more time with my wife,” he says. “I’ve had a good life.” Sanger’s heart transplant survival rates are among the best in country. Even so, says Dr. Frank, James’ outcome has been remarkable. At almost 30 years, he’s lived far longer than most heart transplant recipients. The current world record: 33 years. “James is an incredible example of someone who’s been given the gift of life for 29 years after heart transplant,” says Dr. Frank. “He’s not only survived. He’s thrived.” A healthy heart lets you stay focused on doing what you love. 

Learn how Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute can help you keep your heart healthy.