Sunday, November 28, 2010

Dr. H. Edward Garrett Jr.

In a recent story for The Commercial Appeal (Baptist's heart, lung transplant program marks 25 years of saving, improving lives; Nov. 21), I wrote about the heart and lung transplant program celebrating its 25th year at Baptist Memorial Hospital, the people involved in making these miracles happen and those who benefit from it all.

For the piece I interviewed Teresa Dawson, cardiovascular line director for the program, and Renee Hatcher, nurse manager, at length. I also had the opportunity to speak with Brad Bradshaw, a patient who had a heart transplant in 2006. Mr. Bradshaw actually died three times and hearing his story will put all of our lives in perspective.

On a Tuesday afternoon, I was shown into an office in the Baptist Hospital doctor’s building to interview Dr. H. Edward Garrett Jr., head of the transplant program. The first thing that struck me was the size of the office. It wasn’t large and it certainly wasn’t opulent, stacked with papers on the credenza, a model of a heart and the requisite diplomas hung on the walls. I thought at the time that if I was responsible for taking a heart out of one human and putting it into another, I’d at least ask for a larger office.

We spoke about his past – born in Texas and moved at an early age to Memphis – his schooling and his father, Dr. Garrett the elder, a cardiovascular surgeon for Baptist who performed the world’s first successful coronary bypass. Dr. Garrett senior also assisted Junior on his first transplant at Baptist.

During the interview, one in which I got to hold a pump that can be inserted next to the heart to help do the work of the heart and prolong life until a suitable donor can be found (this pump looked like something I once installed in a malfunctioned dishwasher), Dr. Garrett told me a story that, unfortunately, didn't have a place in the final draft for the paper, of a transplant he worked on while he was doing his residency at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

“We had done a transplant in St. Louis and there had been a mistake at the hospital where the donor was and they had gotten the wrong blood type. We didn’t find out we had transplanted the wrong type into this patient until it was already done, so we had a very short time to try to find another heart. We found a heart in Montana, which was way away from where we could normally go to get a heart, so we got the Air Force to agree to fly it back for us. I went up and harvested the heart and handed it to this 18-year-old fighter pilot and he wouldn’t let me fly back with him, but he took off in front of us and we took off in a Lear Jet right behind him. That (Air Force) jet was so fast that he had gotten back to St. Louis, they had done the second transplant and the patient was already in the ICU before our Lear Jet landed. I think they got back in 20 minutes.”

It was a pleasure meeting Dr. Garrett and some of the people he works with daily as well as Mr. Bradshaw and hearing about his new lease on life and his outlook on life, on this second life he’s been given.

I hope I, nor any of my friends or family ever require this team’s services, but if the need does arise, it’s good to know that Memphis has such a program.

Terry Dunn (left), who got a new heart six years ago, was among 48 heart transplant recipients who attended the program's annual picnic at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Memphis. Here, Dunn thanks program director Dr. H. Edward Garrett Jr. (Photo by Ben Fant)