Heart transplant

No magic cure, but heart transplant a miracle for Mike

Heart transplant patient Michael McCarthy

Even though Mike McCarthy’s cardiologist told him for years he would need a heart transplant, Mike never quite believed him. He always thought researchers would develop a new drug that would magically fix his heart problems.

That new drug never came, but the gift of life he received instead was even more miraculous—and it has improved his life immeasurably.

Mike, 68, who lives in Menominee, Mich., started experiencing heart problems three decades ago. His chest was gurgling because his heart wasn’t pumping efficiently, so his doctor gave him medication which allowed him to live a normal life for years. In 2014, his doctor installed a pacemaker and implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) to correct his heart when it would fall out of rhythm.

But by 2021, even those devices weren’t enough. Mike didn’t even have to exert himself much before his defibrillator activated, sending an electric pulse to his heart to restore its rhythm.

“Physically, I wasn’t doing much,” he said. “I was out of breath a lot and sleeping a lot of the day. It wasn’t a good life.”

Mike’s doctor sent him to Green Bay, Wis., where UW Health heart failure specialists hold a monthly clinic. They knew immediately that Mike was in heart failure — and that he needed a transplant to save his life.

In March 2021, Mike traveled to Madison, Wis., to undergo testing for a transplant. Doctors determined he was a good candidate for the procedure and they put him on the wait list for a new heart. Nine days later he received a call that a heart was available.

“It was kind of dream-like,” he said. “Nobody ever thinks they’re actually going to get that call.”

Mike received the gift of life on April 22, 2021. Recovery took longer than he had hoped, but now he is feeling better every day. He rarely naps, and he’s hoping he will be able to cut his own lawn again this summer and return to the hobby he loves: Working on projects in his garage.

In April 2022, Mike and his family celebrated his one-year “heartiversary” with an outdoor barbecue, a cake and lots of time with his grandchildren. Mike received a t-shirt that showed a flatlined heart rhythm next to a normal heart rhythm with the words “I’m back!”

These days, Mike is grateful to have more energy and spend time with his family. “I have more Christmases to look forward to than I thought I was going to have,” he said.