It was just over 45 years ago when the first human heart transplant was performed in South Africa. Now, about 2,000 transplant surgeries happen every year in the United States.
Larry McCauley of Idaho is part of that statistic. He's now 67, but on October 8, 1986, he had a heart transplant. Since then, McCauley has led a full life and works part time.
His friend Elise Daniel recently brought him to the StoryCorps booth in Boise to talk about his surgery and how it affected him.
"How long was it from the time you found out you needed a heart transplant until the time you actually got one?" asked Daniel.
“I went into a doctor in Twin Falls,” said McCauley. “I thought it was asthma that was giving me a problem because of my lungs. They took x-rays and they couldn’t hardly see my heart because the fluid in my heart had built up so bad. That’s when I got sent down to Salt Lake City. This doctor came in and told me the only thing that would [work] was a heart transplant. He wanted me to sign up [for one] but I didn’t want to. So I went back home. After half a week, I finally called and told them to put me on the list. It was a Thursday when I told them that. The next Monday morning they gave me a call and told me they had a heart and I needed to be down to Salt Lake immediately.”
“Oh my gosh,” said Daniel, “So that was really fast.”
“So on Tuesday morning, I had my transplant,” said McCauley.
“Before you made the decision to get your heart transplant, did they tell you you weren’t going to live more than three to six months, did they give you any ballpark?” Daniel asked.
“They told me that 60 percent of my heart was gone and I only had 35-40 percent that was keeping me going,” said McCauley, “So they said they couldn’t give a time how long I’d live.”
“I remember you telling me it was a little boy’s heart that you got, is that right?”
“It was a college student that was going to the University of Utah and he was riding a bicycle and he hit a curb and it threw him off and he hit his head,” said McCauley. “At that time they didn’t have helmets. He was brain dead. His family donated the stuff [his organs].”
“Did you ever meet the family?”
“I called and talked to them and thanked them and I asked them if they wanted to meet me and they really didn’t want to meet me" McCauley recalls.
"It was too painful for them.” said Daniel. “Do you ever think about that boy?”
“Yeah, when I’m out working hard or something I think that poor guy, if he knew what he was going to go through, I would never have gotten that heart!” said McCauley.
“He would have thought that was too much work for his heart,” said Daniel. “And you’re a big hearted person, which is funny, because you’ve had a heart transplant, but you’ve got a heart of gold. I know you talk about people thinking you’re a tough guy, but anybody who really knows you, knows how sweet you are and how kind you are and you’re always willing to help people, which is a pretty neat thing.”
“Well, thank you very much,” said McCauley.
StoryCorps is a national initiative to record and collect stories of everyday people. Excerpts were selected and produced by Boise State Public Radio.
Copyright 2013 Boise State Public Radio