Booster Shots

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He made the most of his second heart

August 11, 2009 |  9:54 am


Tony Huesman of Washington Township, Ohio, died Sunday due to complications from cancer at the age of 51. But he almost died more than 30 years ago from cardiomyopathy.

Instead, Huesman – a student at Miami University in Ohio at the time – traveled to Stanford Hospital & Clinics in August 1978 and became one of the first people to receive a heart transplant in the program pioneered by Dr. Norman Shumway.

He lived with that heart for more than 30 years – a record among heart transplant patients.

Huesman was optimistic about his chances from the start. When he was prepping for surgery and a Catholic priest arrived to administer his last rites, he turned him away. “No, no, I’m not going to die,” he recalled telling the priest in an interview. “I’m going to make it through this.”

Huesman also recalled becoming so bored during his three-month recovery in the hospital’s isolation unit that he sometimes mopped his room just to have something to do.

He returned to his native Dayton and got a job in a sporting-goods store, where he spent his entire career. He said he never made long-term plans because he didn’t know how much time he had. At the time, five years was the longest anyone had lived with a transplanted heart.

He was originally uncertain about marriage, but in 1997, he married an elementary school teacher named Carol. She was impressed by her husband’s generosity. He founded a nonprofit called the Huesman Heart Foundation to teach kids about heart health, cardiovascular disease and organ donation.

“He got one heart, and he gave his heart out tenfold,” Carol said in a statement released by Stanford.

-- Karen Kaplan