News Stephanie Boothe | 5 years ago

For Milt, A New Heart Brings a New Perspective

A rare and dangerous condition called giant cell myocarditis ravaged Milt’s heart and left him in need of a transplant. But a new heart gave him a second chance - and a new outlook on life.

When Milt Childress first started feeling the flutters of an irregular heartbeat, he didn’t think it was serious. At 52, the father of three exercised regularly and ate well. So, he assumed the unsteady heart rhythm would naturally subside on its own. “I thought, ‘I’m a healthy person,’” says Milt. “I wasn’t that concerned.” But weeks passed, and his heart still felt jumpy. At his wife Carol’s insistence, Milt finally visited his cardiologist to have it checked out. To his surprise, doctors quickly admitted him to the hospital, and he realized something might really be wrong. “I spent several days in the hospital,” says Milt. “And it started to sink in that there may be a serious problem.”

A Frightening Diagnosis

After a few more stints in the hospital and rounds of follow-up tests, doctors figured out just what the problem was: a dangerous and difficult-to-diagnose condition called giant cell myocarditis. “It’s a pretty rare disease,” says Sanjeev Gulati, MD, who leads heart failure and transplant services at Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute. “Giant cell myocarditis is a big complex term that means inflammation of the heart muscle. It’s unknown why the cluster of giant cells gets into the heart. But it leads to destruction of heart tissue, which ultimately leads to heart failure.” Milt puts it in even simpler terms. “The doctor said: ‘The problem is, you just need a new heart,’” he recalls. For Milt, the experience felt surreal. Just a few months before, he’d been healthy, active and full of energy. Now he was weak, hospital-bound and facing a fatal condition that left him in need of a heart transplant. “It was devastating,” he recalls. But as he waited in the hospital for a heart, he clung to his family – and his faith. “It was a time of soul-searching,” he shares, “and a time of gratitude and real connection with other people.” After a month of anxious waiting – and a false start with a donor heart that wasn’t a good fit – Milt and his family finally got the miracle they’d been praying for: doctors had the right heart for Milt. It was time for him to get his transplant. “I burst into tears,” Carol says of hearing the news that her husband was getting a new heart. “That’s a feeling I’ll never forget.”

New Heart, New Perspective

The team from Sanger’s 30-year-old advanced heart failure and transplant program successfully performed Milt’s heart surgery. The program offers some of the country’s best long-term transplant survival rates – and for Milt, that meant better days were ahead. Soon, he was back to life as he’d formerly known it. “He can essentially do anything now that he was able to do before the transplant,” says Dr. Gulati. Now 58, Milt says he and his family face each day with a new perspective and a renewed sense of gratitude. “At the time I got the transplant, I was probably weeks if not days away from having a heart that no longer functioned,” says Milt. “I’m grateful to have another chance at life.” One of the many experiences he could have missed that he’s especially thankful for: walking his daughter, Alex, down the aisle. “When it was happening, all I could think was, ‘wow,’” Milt says. “’What a gift this is.’” 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.