Tom Manuel still remembers the day like it was yesterday. "I was sitting in my chair looking out at my backyard and I got a phone call asking, 'Are you ready?'" he tells us. "And to be perfectly honest, for a microsecond, I really thought about it because when you get down to the essence of what a heart transplant is, you need to decide how you really feel about it."
For Tom, whose heart problems came to light a few years earlier when he suffered a heart attack during a pickup basketball game, there was only one answer. "I'd essentially spent four years living in a La-Z-Boy chair because I was in such bad shape after my heart attack," he tells us. "I couldn't walk 10 feet without collapsing. So I said, 'Yes, I'm ready.'"
Tom and his family then traveled to a Florida hospital where a surgical team successfully transplanted his new heart. After waking up in the recovery room, Tom asked to meet his lead surgeon, Si Pham, M.D.
That was 15 years ago. In the time since, it's not just Tom's life that changed as a result of the heart transplant. After going through the experience with Tom, his wife, Terry, enrolled in nursing school and spent time working with heart transplant patients at Mayo Clinic's Florida campus. Tom's daughter Shannon, who was just four months old when Tom had the heart attack, completed a medical research internship at Mayo Clinic and is working toward becoming a pathologist. "This whole experience has transformed my family, there's no question about that," Tom says.
Which is why when Tom was looking through old scrapbooks recently, he started thinking back to his transplant surgeon. "One day I just started thinking about Dr. Pham," Tom tells us. "I searched for him on Facebook and found him, and came to learn that he'd just taken a new job as chair of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Mayo Clinic in Florida. And since moving to Jacksonville ourselves, we've become a Mayo family now, too," Tom says. "Talk about closing the loop."
A few messages later, doctor and patient made plans to reunite during Tom's next follow-up appointment at Mayo Clinic, where he's now a patient. "We spent a couple of hours together and it was great," Tom says. "I thanked him for saving my life and showed him pictures of my children and my grandchildren. We also talked about my wife and my daughter, and about how they've gotten into health care themselves because of everything he did to save my life."
For Dr. Pham, reuniting with Tom was one of those moments that reinforce the life-saving work he and his team do every day. "I'm so happy to see that he's continuing to do so well," Dr. Pham tells us. "It's a great reward for us to know that we were able to help someone like him not only live but to also go on to see their children and their grandchildren grow up."
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