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A New Heart and a New Perspective on Life

defaultNewsImage Jimmy Murray's Story

“I used to hate the color green, and I didn’t like to cook. Now I love green — in every shade. And I really enjoy whipping up a good dish.” In many ways — large and small —Jimmy Murray sees the world in a whole new light — since he received his new heart 12 years ago.

The owner of a construction firm, Jimmy was painting the interior of a home in Bracey, Virginia, when he got the first inkling that something was wrong. “I just felt kind of ‘off’ and my chest was achy. So I asked my son to take me home so I could rest.” Although Jimmy’s blood pressure was very high, he still resisted seeing a doctor.

The weekend passed, and on Monday Jimmy had an appointment in Emporia with a prospective client. “While I was driving back to La Crosse, it really hit me, and I had to pull off the road,” recalls Jimmy. “I called my family and told them I couldn’t make it home. Please call 911. I decided to continue driving, trying to get into Mecklenburg County, where the rescue squad could pick me up. In fact, I was speeding, in hopes that a state trooper would pull me over and help.”

By the time he hit Brodnax, Jimmy was so weak and incapacitated that he couldn’t press the brakes hard enough to stop his truck. Fortunately, his sons Jason and Jamie were out looking for him. Jamie was able to jump in and pull the vehicle safely off the road. Jimmy always carried aspirin, and he managed to swallow a few while waiting for the rescue squad to take him over to the ER. That action just may have saved his life.

From that point on, Jimmy has no memory of events. But piecing the story together, he was taken to VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital (then called Community Memorial Healthcenter) for emergency care and then quickly transferred by helicopter to VCU Health in Richmond.

Jimmy spent a total of five months in the VCU Health Pauley Heart Center. At first, he was treated medically for his heart failure, but it soon became apparent that this would not be sufficient to sustain his life. A left ventricular assist device (LVAD) was implanted under Jimmy’s skin to help pump blood from his heart to the rest of his body. LVADs provide a bridge for patients who need a heart transplant until a matching organ can be located.

On October 8, 2005, Jimmy received the ultimate gift of life — the heart of a person from the New Jersey area. The transplant surgery was performed by a team of specialists from the VCU Health Hume-Lee Transplant Center and Pauley Heart Center.

“The hospital staff called me Lazarus, because after 21 days, I woke up. In all honesty, I shouldn’t be here,” says Jimmy. “But I praise the Lord. I guess He has some bigger purpose to keep me around a little longer.” He also credits his medical team. “The doctors and nurses were incredible.” Jimmy is deeply grateful to the hospital chaplains who spent time with him. “They were just as concerned about my emotional and spiritual well-being as they were about my physical health.”

Twelve years have passed since Jimmy received his new heart, and his life has changed a lot. He is now retired, and his son has taken over the construction business. He must take more than two dozen pills each day to prevent his transplanted heart from being rejected and to control his blood pressure.  

But in many ways, Jimmy’s life has taken a turn for the better. “I have always loved my family, but I appreciate them now more than ever. I am so thankful that I can enjoy my grandchildren and be part of their lives as they grow up,” he says. “While I was in the hospital Sheila and my children, Jamie, Jason, Jennifer and my daughter-in-law, Marsha, were constantly by my side. Also, our church family from Olive Branch Baptist in Blackridge was always there and constantly praying for us.”

“I know what’s really important, and I make an effort to spend more time with my family and less time fretting about things I can’t control. I used to smoke three packs of cigarettes a day, and my life was filled with stress.” Today, Jimmy has adopted a healthier lifestyle — not smoking, eating better, seeing his doctors regularly and not wasting energy sweating the small stuff. He has a simple philosophy of life: “We should all really value our lives more — they are precious — and always keep God first.”

Jimmy is also deeply grateful to the organ donation program. He was given a hint that it might have been a young female’s heart that he received. Jimmy has checked the box on his driver’s license to volunteer as an organ donor as well — that’s one way he can pay his gift forward.

When Jimmy woke up from his transplant surgery, there were tears in his eyes, and his wife asked why he was crying. He teasingly replied, “Because now I have the heart of a woman.” But Jimmy really believes he has the heart of an angel.

To learn more about being an organ donor, please call the VCU Health Hume-Lee Transplant Center at (804) 628-0711 and speak with one of our living donor coordinators.

If you or a loved one needs an organ, contact the VCU Health Hume-Lee Transplant Center at (804) 828-4104 or vcuhealth.org/transplant.