PHOENIX — Doyle Duke received the gift of life.
The 53-year-old survived the successful transplant of a new heart, liver, and kidney. A rare medical procedure, never performed before in Arizona.
“Just to be here, I’m blessed,” Duke told 12News Friday, sixteen weeks post-op.
The triple-organ transplant was the only chance of survival for Duke, who had been battling heart problems since he was 14 years old.
It was during a routine physical that he needed to join the baseball team when doctors heard a murmur in his heart. It turned out to be idiopathic hypertrophic subaortic stenosis or IHSS, a condition that causes the heart muscle to become abnormally thick.
His baseball dreams of going pro were crushed. Over the course of his life, Duke underwent five ablation open-heart surgeries.
“I had a good run there for a while, I was feeling pretty good and then, it started deteriorating,” said Duke. “Since 2012 it just got worse and worse and worse.”
It was time for a new heart.
A multi-organ transplant was the only option
Doyle Duke’s heart disease advanced despite multiple surgical interventions and resulted in heart failure. That affected other organs in his body, resulting in liver disease and liver failure, as well as chronic kidney disease.
“It became very obvious that it was unlikely for him to survive without a transplant,” said Dr. Bashar Aqel, chair of the transplant center at Mayo Clinic in Arizona.
But doing a heart transplant on somebody with liver and kidney disease is not an option, said Aqel. So, for Duke to be a transplant candidate, he needed to be listed for a triple-organ transplant.
On December 7, Duke’s more than 14-hour surgery, which ended the next day, was performed. Doctors successfully completed the rare medical procedure.
“You don’t know how blessed I am,” Duke said. “Now I can hear that heartbeat. I can feel it. It’s so strong and it beats away.”
To hear and feel his heartbeat was something new for Duke, whose arteries at one point reached 90% blocked, he said.
On January 22, Duke got to hear his new beating heart for the first time through a stethoscope and said, “oh daddy I got a good one.”
Duke said he is not only grateful, not just for the opportunity he now gets to spend more time with his four dogs, six children, and 12 grandchildren, but for the person who gave him the gift of life.
“You know, he’s never going to die because he’s always going to be with me,” the 53-year-old said. “Until I go. We’ll see a lot of stuff together. I hope he enjoys it.”
A top destination for transplants
Mayo Clinic Arizona performs the most transplants than anywhere else in the United States, said Aqel. The triple-organ transplant was the first one completed in Arizona.
“We are lucky to have such skilled medical and surgical teams that are able to do the impossible,” Aqel said. “Heart, liver, and kidney transplant simultaneously from the same donor is a rare occurrence.”
Duke’s transplant involved about 20 doctors, nurses, and medical staff.
For each organ, there were at least two surgeons and a surgical assistant. Along with the anesthesia team, the intensive care unit, and the nursing teams.
Since transplants began to be documented, about 45 triple-organ transplants have been done in the world, Aqel said. With an average of two to four transplants performed per year in the U.S.
“Mr. Duke’s case represents a very unique case that required a high level of skill and we’re extremely happy that the outcome was that good,” Aqel said. “This opens the door for more organ transplants.”
Gift of life - organ donation
There are more than 100,000 people in the United States waiting for a life-saving organ transplant in the nation. In Arizona, that number is more than 2,200, according to the National Kidney Foundation of Arizona.
“Tragically, more than 20 people die every day before they can make it to a transplant,” said Aqel, the Mayo Clinic’s chair of the transplant center. “With each donor, we save up to eight lives and you can touch 75 people as well, through organs, tissue, blood, and marrow donations.”
Every year, April is observed as National Donate Life Month which aims to raise awareness about organ donation and encourage people to register as organ, eye, and tissue donors. You can sign up to be a donor here.
“Life is meant to be savored. If you got somebody that can save another life, who not do it?” Doyle Duke said. “You can’t do nothing with your heart and your liver and all when you’re gone.”
Duke and his wife Billie, hope to one day meet the family of the person who donated his organs. Per donation protocols, that can’t happen until a year has passed since the transplant, they said.
“He was one of God’s angels sent here to do what he did,” Duke said about his organ donor. “He’s a special person. He’s my hero.”
The couple met while working at a Walmart distribution center in their hometown of Pauls Valley, Oklahoma. They are grateful their employer, through the company’s Centers of Excellence program, paid 100% of the surgery and related costs.
You can follow Doyle Duke's recovery here.
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