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When Patrick Leigh first started having problems running up and down the basketball court eight years ago, he thought he might just be “getting old,” even though he was only in his late 30s.
He saw a rheumatologist, who ordered an echocardiogram of his heart. Just two hours after undergoing the test, Patrick received a phone call from the hospital.
He wasn’t getting old—rather, he was in acute heart failure. And, his cardiologist told him, eventually he would need a heart transplant. “It might be a year or 15 years,” he said. “I lived with that for eight years, just knowing that it would happen.”
Many people might be disheartened by that. But for Patrick, living in limbo wasn’t bad, because he was seeing specialists at the UW Health Transplant Center. “I just felt super confident that everything would go well,” he said.
Doctors never determined exactly what caused Patrick’s heart failure, but the fact remained that his heart would not last for long. They were able to manage his symptoms through medication for several years, but by April 2022, it was time for him to go on the wait list for a new heart.
Still, that didn’t mean life stopped for him. Patrick still was very busy with his job as a science teacher at Sauk Prairie High School in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin. He and his wife Carlie also spent much of their time supporting their two teenagers at their various activities.
“The hardest part about being on the transplant wait list was the unknown,” he said. “My wife and I are planners. I didn’t want to miss my daughter’s graduation, or the opportunity to move her into college.”
While he waited, Patrick’s caregivers kept close tabs on him to make sure he was as comfortable as possible. Still, by the end of 2022, he was having a very difficult time even walking from his truck to his classroom. So, when he received the call in early January 2023 that a heart had become available, he felt like it was just in the nick of time.
Patrick stayed at University Hospital for 26 days following his heart transplant. “All the nurses were awesome,” he said. “I didn’t think I was a super great patient, but they all knew my name and encouraged me.”
Some of his caregivers were even former students who had fond memories of him from their high school days.
Despite the fact that his body had to become used to a completely new heart, Patrick recovered quickly. Three months after his surgery he was back at work, and six months afterward, he was back to playing pick-up basketball games. In July 2023, he went on a golf trip with his wife and son.
“I’m just amazed,” he said. “I know it doesn’t go this way for everyone, and I feel so fortunate.”