Twenty years ago, doctors told Don Brouillette he had about two weeks to live. But decades later the Omaha resident is still going strong, thanks to a heart transplant that gave him another chance, KETV reports.
In 1994, when Brouillette first got the news that he needed a new heart, the procedure was considered risky. Bypass surgery failed the previous year, according to a blog from the Nebraska Medical Center.
Brouillette told KETV that when he was going down to the operating room, he had a 50-50 chance he'd be coming back.
"We were treading in waters that we hadn't put our feet in yet," Dr. Thomas Sears, a cardiologist at the Nebraska Medical Center where Brouillette received the transplant, told KETV. “He turned out to be our first cardiac transplantation that we actually had that was done at our institution."
Brouillette and his wife Maria have made the most of the past 20 years. He told KETV, "It feels wonderful. I've got to see two grandkids grow up. I've just enjoyed life and lived what's come along. I had another 20 years with Maria, but the biggest thanks has to go to the donor and his family."
About 10 years ago, Brouillette was given the opportunity to thank the family of the heart donor at a transplant reunion. Speaking to KETV, Maria called the reunion both heart-wrenching and beautiful.
The couple will celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary shortly, according to KETV.
Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed the world's first heart transplant on Dec. 3, 1967, in Cape Town, South Africa. The patient, 53-year-old Louis Washkansky, died after 18 days due to double pneumonia. His heart beat strong until the end, according to History.com.
Follow Mike Krumboltz on Twitter (@mikekrumboltz).