The human heart is about the size of a fist.
A few weeks ago, Thomas Cook celebrated an unexpected milestone, having lived as long with a donor heart as he had with his own. In reality, however, the new heart became his own the moment surgeons transplanted it inside his chest 25 years ago.
"His body and his heart have become one," says Steven Boyce, surgical director of the heart failure and heart transplantation program at MedStar Heart Institute at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, where Cook's transplant took place on Feb. 1, 1989. "We don't know why. It's very unusual when the body accepts a new organ and says, 'Hey, you're me.' His body just accepted the organ and never caused a fuss."
Cook, 50, is among the longest-surviving heart transplant recipients on record. Even more remarkable, Cook has never experienced any significant rejection episodes or other major medical complications that can occur after heart transplantation. He takes anti-rejection medicine, as all transplant patients must, but they have caused few problems.
"I've done nothing but live my life," he says. "I've had ups and downs, but I'm enjoying the feelings of being alive. I'm happy to have them. It's part of the cycle of life, and I'm happy to still be in that cycle."
On Feb. 19, when Cook arrived at the hospital for his annual checkup, the physicians, nurses and other staff involved in his care — as well as the mother of his heart donor — surprised him with 25 red heart-shaped balloons, a heart-shaped cake, plates of heart-shaped sugar cookies, and a heart made of crystal engraved with "25 years strong."
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