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Organ Transplant Eligibility Not Defined By Age

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(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Stephanie Lucero
Stephanie is an Emmy Award winning veteran reporter for CBS 11 N...
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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Phyllis Barnes says she didn’t know if her age would keep her from getting a new heart. But after being on the heart transplant waiting list at Medical City Hospital for 19 months, Barnes received the phone call she had been waiting for.

A member of the transplant team called on New Year’s Eve, as Barnes was preparing for a dinner party.

“Anna called and said you’re not going to get to eat any of that food because we have a heart for you,” recalled Barnes.

Within about two hours the 71-year-old woman was in the operating room.

“There’s no hard and fast rule on age to transplants,” said Dr. Todd Dewey, who performed the surgery. “There used to be this sort of phenomenon, if you’re over the age of 65 then we wouldn’t transplant you. That’s really a sort of mythical number. Everybody’s different.”

Doctors say transplant likelihood has more to do with the patient’s health.

According to Dr. Dewey, if a patient has diabetes, renal disease or a number of other medical problems, they are not good candidates for heart transplantation. He also says it’s unlikely he would transplant a new heart into a patient who is 75 or 80 years old.

“We do take into account the fact that donors have been scarce for the last number of years. The number of transplants in the United States is down over the last three or four years, just because of donor scarcity,” he said.

Barnes suffered from congestive heart failure and was on medication to keep her heart healthy enough to wait for a donor organ. She recently learned the donor heart belonged to a 40-year-old woman.

Out of gratitude and respect, Barnes took some time to grieve for the donor and her family. She said she’d like to meet the family one-day and through the organ bank has written them a letter.

In the letter Barnes said she offered her condolences. She’s hoping to one day tell them, face to face, how grateful she is to be able to enjoy another season of Spring flowers.

“I pledged to them, to their family, and to the doctors, and to Medical City that I will do everything within my power to take care of this heart and to allow the spirit to live on,” she said. “It’s new life and this year it’s really new life for me.”

Patients waiting for a new heart are listed in order of medical priority.

Click here to find out more about organ donation.

Texans can also find out more information about becoming an organ, tissue and eye donor, at Donate Life Texas.

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