Lee Walden got a heart transplant at Baylor University Medical Center in April, after relying on a pacemaker for years. Three months later, the hospital invited him back to participate in its Heart-to-Heart program, which lets people recovering from transplants hold their former heart in their hands while learning how to care for their new one.
Walden was amazed at the size of his old heart, which was nearly three times bigger than a healthy one, says Matt Olivolo of Baylor Scott & White Health. Now, thanks to his new ticker, Walden can spend time with his nearly 2-year-old granddaughter — the reason he says he had his transplant.
Walden is the 142nd person to participate in the Heart-to-Heart program since it started in 2014, under the leadership of William C. Roberts, MD, the executive director of the Baylor Heart and Vascular Institute. Roberts says the program was inspired by a former transplant patient who asked to see his old heart. Five years later, it’s evolved into a teaching opportunity to encourage others to live a healthier lifestyle.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S., according to the CDC. Nearly 5.7 million adults in the United States have heart failure, and roughly half of those who get it die within 5 years of their diagnosis.
Roberts says the Heart-to-Heart program doesn’t just teach transplant recipients how to treat their new heart — it also reminds them how fortunate they are to start over with a healthy one.