The young doctor watched with fascination as the transplant cardiologists he was shadowing cared for some of the most seriously ill patients he'd ever seen. People whose lives hung suspended as they waited, counting days, praying for the miracle of a new heart.
And he watched with wonder as those same physicians cared for patients who received that miracle. People who came back for appointments five, 10, 15 years after their transplants. They'd talk about their health, but also about their children and grandchildren. They'd share pictures of milestone events — graduations, weddings, birthday celebrations — images of full lives made possible by organ donation.
That young doctor, Brian Hardaway, M.D., liked what he saw. Especially at those follow-up visits.
"What got me hook, line and sinker was the longitudinal relationships the physicians developed with their patients," says Dr. Hardaway, now a transplant cardiologist himself. "You're following patients for years. Transplant medicine is like planting a seed and watching an oak tree grow."
That's something Dr. Hardaway understands as a physician, but also as a patient. In addition to caring for people before and after transplants, he's been both an organ donor and a recipient. He knows firsthand that good things grow when transplants take root.
Dr. Hardaway was a second-year internal medicine resident when he learned he'd need a corneal transplant.
"I had been diagnosed with keratoconus my freshman year of college," Dr. Hardaway says. The condition was initially managed with contact lenses. But it worsened over time.
"It got to a point where the vision and comfort in my left eye were poor," he says. "My doctor told me corneal transplantation was the only option."
"Transplant medicine is like planting a seed and watching an oak tree grow."Brian Hardaway, M.D.
The news wasn't a surprise. Dr. Hardaway had known a transplant was a possibility someday. But now, the timing of "someday" was less than ideal.
"I was worried about how much time I'd have to take off from my training," Dr. Hardaway says. There were bigger concerns as well. "I worried about having complications, about losing my eyesight completely. It was scary."
Fortunately, the transplant went "incredibly well," Dr. Hardaway says. "I was back to work in five days."
That surgery took place in 2005. The next year, Dr. Hardaway would experience transplant from a third perspective when he became an organ donor.
In early 2006, Dr. Hardaway's father, William, learned that his kidneys were failing, and he'd soon need to begin dialysis or have a kidney transplant. Dr. Hardaway told his father he wanted to be tested to see if he could be a donor.
"No, no, no, no, no," was William's response, ABC-15 TV reports.
Dr. Hardaway went through with testing anyway and was approved to donate. Eventually, he convinced his father to accept his gift.
When both men were finally cleared for transplant, the timing was once again less than ideal.
"We were approved in June 2006," Dr. Hardaway says. That same month, Dr. Hardaway and his wife were moving to Ohio, where he would begin a fellowship at Cleveland Clinic. They also were expecting their first child, a daughter, in early July.
"If the opportunity presents itself and it seems appropriate, I'll mention my experience to patients. I understand the anxiety that a family experiences prior to transplant."Brian Hardaway, M.D.
"I thought about talking to my dad about pushing the transplant back and doing it over Christmas," Dr. Hardaway says. "But my wife and I talked about it and prayed about it, and we decided to go ahead with the transplant in June."
The surgeries were a success, and 15 years after transplant, both father and son are doing well. And thanks to his experience as a both a donor and recipient, Dr. Hardaway is now able to share a unique and personal perspective with his patients.
"If the opportunity presents itself and it seems appropriate, I'll mention my experience to patients," he says. "I understand the anxiety that a family experiences prior to transplant."
In the two decades since he was introduced to the field, Dr. Hardaway's enthusiasm for transplant medicine has only grown.
"Transplant not only saves lives but it also transforms lives around the person who received the transplant," Dr. Hardaway says. "It's not just about one individual. Every individual in a recipient's life is impacted by transplant."
That's something Dr. Hardaway knows in his head. And in his heart.