• Cardiovascular

    Surgery helps Chuck Smith avoid heart transplant, meet new grandson

Every 40 seconds, someone in the U.S. has a heart attack. In thousands of cases each year, a condition known as cardiogenic shock can follow a heart attack, causing organ failure and requiring complex surgery or transplant. 

Watch: Surgery helps Chuck Smith avoid heart transplant, meet new grandson

Journalists: Broadcast-quality video pkg (2:02) is in the downloads at the end of the post. Please courtesy: "Mayo Clinic News Network." Read the script.

A heart attack never crossed Chuck Smith's mind.

"I was very active," Chuck says. "I ran 13 marathons from 40 to 47 years old, qualified for the Boston Marathon and competed in that race twice."

But he started experiencing a sharp pain in his chest in August 2019.

Chuck's wife, Jaye Smith, recognized something was wrong and brought him to a hospital near their home in Northeast Florida.

"They (Health care staff) put me on an EKG, and within five minutes, I'm on a helicopter flying to the main hospital in downtown Jacksonville," Chuck recounts. "The last I remember is the helicopter door open and two paddles on my chest."

Chuck's heart was damaged and unable to pump blood though his body. The condition, called cardiogenic shock, caused his other organs to fail.

After he was placed on a device to keep blood pumping, Chuck was transferred to Mayo Clinic, where Dr. Parag Patel, a Mayo Clinic transplant medicine specialist, and team considered the possibility of a heart transplant.

"Even though I'm a heart transplant cardiologist, my first goal is to try to take a patient's original heart and get it better and actually avoid transplant," Dr. Patel says. "With medical therapies, and advanced technological therapies, we can help the heart recover on its own."

Chuck spent 20 days in the hospital after complex heart surgery, avoiding a transplant. His wife, children and friends motivated recovery.

"My whole family is everything to me," Chuck says. "I know that I was fighting so hard to live."

Not long after walking out of the hospital, Chuck was walking down the aisle at his son's wedding.

"They (My son and his wife) got married in our backyard in July (2020)," Chuck says. "They came home visiting for Christmas, and on Christmas Eve, they announced they were pregnant. What a glorious day that was."

"He was able to see his son get married and now has a grandson," Dr. Patel says. "That's the neat part of this — that you can take a person who almost didn't make it and give him back to his family."

Chuck has laced up his running shoes again — not for a marathon course, but to stay in step with his year-old grandson.

"It's just unbelievable to see my grandson," Chuck says. "It's just such a blessing. He walks with me. Life couldn't be better."

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