Heart transplant

After a heart transplant, Howard hasn't missed a beat

Howard Marg making the shape of a heart with his hands in front of his chest

After nearly 20 years of experiencing peaks and valleys in his heart health, Howard Marg had grown accustomed to changing his behavior depending on how his heart was feeling. Then, in 2013, his health plummeted.

After experiencing pneumonia, then a stroke, Howard needed a more permanent solution to his heart problems. That solution turned out to be the gift of life—he received a heart transplant at University Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, on November 23, 2013. “My new heart hasn’t missed a beat and just keeps right on ticking,” says Howard, who lives in Auburndale, Wisconsin.

Howard’s challenges began in 1995, when he was afflicted by coxsackie B virus, which caused his white blood cells to attack the left ventricle of his heart. He was diagnosed with congestive heart failure but was able to manage it through medication. When he encountered “valleys” in his health, he simply rested more and took time to recover.

If you’re going to be in a situation like this, you want the best people around you. And I did.

After Howard caught pneumonia early in 2002, he sought care at his local hospital in Marshfield, Wisconsin, before deciding he needed to be evaluated for a heart transplant at University Hospital. He was quite weak the morning he and his wife, Deb, left for Madison, and suffered a stroke on the way there. Deb brought him directly to the emergency room at University Hospital, where doctors administered tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), a drug that dissolves the blood clot causing the stroke. “University Hospital was the place I needed to be,” says Howard. 

After several weeks of working hard to recover, Howard improved his health enough that he no longer needed a heart transplant, and he returned home. For the next 11 years, he returned to his familiar pattern of peaks and valleys, managing his care through his local primary care physician.

But eventually, his health declined again. In October 2013, he felt so weak while hunting in the woods that he laid down and took a nap on the ground. Afterward, he made it to his truck and Deb again took him to the emergency room at University Hospital. This time, doctors installed a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), a mechanical pump implanted inside the chest to help pump blood. He felt great—for a while-- but less than a month later, he was back at the hospital with a heart full of fluid.

Howard was placed on the heart transplant wait list, and within a day, a heart became available for him. “I can never forget how the team at University Hospital responded,” says Howard. “From X-ray technicians to nurses to doctors, everyone was in my room getting me ready for surgery right away.”

Now, six years after his life-saving transplant, Howard experiences the occasional health problem, but he’s grateful for every day. “If you’re going to be in a situation like this, you want the best people around you,” he says. “And I did.”