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UCLA program recycles well-used hearts

Jim Shirley August 22, 1997
Web posted at: 11:10 a.m. EDT (1510 GMT)

From Correspondent Greg LaMotte

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Jim Shirley will jump on a horse to rope a calf in a heartbeat.

At least, he will today thanks to an innovative heart-transplant program at the UCLA Medical Center.

"I can get out and work like this," he said. "I enjoy working with my son. I enjoy roping, and it's just like starting all over -- like being born again."

This self-proclaimed bull-headed bulldozer driver has lived his whole life in the fast lane. A bad knee and a steel plate in his head haven't held him back. Since his boyhood, Shirley has never lost his love for calf roping and women, even the one he married five times.

But as tough as Jim Shirley is, life, last year, almost bucked him off. At age 67, Shirley appeared to be a goner. His heart was failing, but he's alive today thanks to a pilot heart program at UCLA.

transplant heart

"Up to one third of the heart transplant candidates waiting on the list die before heart transplants," explained UCLA cardiologist Dr. Jon Kobashigawa. "There was a very large, untapped pool of donors who had absolutely perfect hearts. So the idea was, why not use these older donor hearts for older recipients."

Shirley received a heart from a 52-year-old man. The heart's arteries were slightly clogged and doctors say it normally would have been discarded. But a year later it's beating in Shirley. After his annual checkup, the old cowboy was given a clean bill of health.

Doctors at the UCLA Medical Center say the alternative donor program, using imperfect hearts of older donors, may increase the availability of transplantable hearts in this nation by 10 percent.

"His heart is contracting absolutely normally and this is providing him with enough forward flow from his heart to allow him to do all the activities he used to do, including getting back to horseback riding."

Well, almost everything.

"I can't chase women. I can't drink whiskey. I can't go out and move around like I used to," admitted Shirley.

But he's back to riding a bulldozer, and that's just fine with him.

"I feel like a new man," Shirley says.


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