Friday, July 22, 2011
Triple-transplant patient looks forward to seeing his son grow up
While recovering from heart and kidney transplants, Frank Murdock missed the July 15 birthday of his son, Christopher, now 11. But nearly a month after the operation, it looks like Murdock will be around for many more.
The Vista resident received the transplants June 25, nine years after having received a lung transplant. His doctors say they don't know of anyone else who has received that triple-organ combination. Murdock has been in the hospital ever since, but expects to go home soon.
Murdock spoke to reporters Thursday morning from his bed at UC San Diego Thornton Hospital, with Christopher sitting next to him. A 53-year-old Navy veteran, Murdock said he is optimistic that he has a long future and thanked his doctors, organ donor, and his wife, Cira. He also vowed to make up for missing his son's birthday while hospitalized.
"I have another second chance," Murdock said. "I'd like to take care of my family and to raise my son."
Waiting, keeping up hope
Murdock received a lung transplant in 2002. While his new lungs are holding up well, the anti-rejection drugs he took damaged Murdock's kidneys, said Dr. Jack Copeland, director of heart transplantation at UCSD Health System. The drugs also raised Murdock's blood pressure, indirectly damaging his heart.
"The high blood pressure led to thickening of the walls of the heart to the point that became pathologic," Copeland said. "A normal heart weighs about 250 grams; his heart weighed about 1,000, four times as heavy as normal."
Murdock told reporters he worked on having a positive attitude while waiting for the organs to become available.
"I was depressed a little bit, and went from being depressed to being more happy," Murdock said. "I never, ever thought that time was running out. I was thinking that time was getting closer. You don't think negative, you think positive. If I had thought negative, I wouldn't be talking to you today."
Asked by a reporter how he felt, Murdock replied: "I feel great! Want to go play some basketball?"
Returning home to watch over Christopher as he grows is even higher on Murdock's agenda. For now, he's a stay-at-home dad. Cira works as a registered nurse at Scripps Hospital in Encinitas.
Cira Murdock said her nursing background was useful in maintaining her husband's health.
"Having that knowledge helps me help him with medications, make sure that he follows the right diet and exercises as he's supposed to," she said. And when he was down, she would cheer him up.
"I said, the waiting will soon be over, it (the transplant) can happen at any time, and then we'll get to do the things we used to do before, like going for walks, and we can look forward to the future," she said.
Murdock's optimism is justified, according to cardiothoracic surgeon Victor Pretorius, who performed the transplant. Pretorius said Murdock's generally in good physical condition, and with adherence to his medications and regimen, can expect to live a long time.
"I think he can return to a normal function, with a normal expectation for quality of life," Pretorius said. "He can go back to work, back to school; he's studying. I think he will see his son grow up to be a man."
Copeland had planned to perform the transplant; he had been following Murdock's case for about six months to arrange it. But as chance would have it, he was out of town when the organs became available and did not perform the surgery.
The surgical team transplanted the organs at the same time because the outcome is better than with performing heart and kidney transplants at different times, Copeland said. UCSD's transplant system allowed Murdock to receive the organs from the same donor, which also works in Murdock's favor, he said.
How to help others
"We're very thankful for the donation of the organs," Copeland said. "It's something you have to think about before an event happens. No one knows what's going to happen in the next 30 minutes, let alone the next week.
"But if you happen to be involved in a traumatic accident and you wish to donate your organs, you can certainly help out a deserving person like him."
Copeland said he's not aware of any one else in the world with Murdock's combination of transplanted organs. But a growing number of patients with heart failure will need heart and kidney transplants, he said.
"The medications that are given for heart failure are prolonging the time out of hospital and the time until need for transplantation," Copeland said. "But the kidneys are suffering in the meantime. We're seeing many, many patients that are in fairly advanced stages of kidney failure by the time they come in for their heart transplant."
Those wishing to become organ donors must register first. To learn how to do so, visit http://organdonor.gov. To register in California, go to https://register.donatelifecalifornia.org/register.
One donor's organs can save up to eight lives, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.