Surfer and college rugby player Joe Matthews was a model for health
and well-being. No one could ever have predicted that the 19-year-old
would soon be diagnosed with idiopathic cardiomyopathy—heart failure
from unknown cause. Within the span of a few weeks, he went from
active and fit to fighting for his life.
After Matthews felt unusually short of breath during a rugby game,
an examination revealed Matthews had two common symptoms of heart
failure: fluid-filled lungs and an enlarged heart. His doctor
transferred him to Stanford to have a heart defibrillator implanted to
control his heart's irregular beat rhythm.
The last step of that procedure was to test the defibrillator's
ability to control his heart rhythm. Almost immediately, his heart
stopped beating and he was rushed into emergency surgery. This time,
doctors installed a mechanical pump called a left
ventricular assist device (LVAD) to get his heart pumping again
and keep it that way.
Matthews awoke to learn that even the pump would note be enough: He
needed a new heart. A few weeks later, he received a transplanted
heart through the Stanford
Heart Transplant Program, the site of the first adult heart
transplant in the U.S.
That was in April of 2006. Today, he's a model of transplant patient
fitness and winner of many medals in track and field at the World
Transplant Games. When he's not training for competitions, he’s an
avid cyclist. He's even playing rugby again. Matthews is also enjoying
life as a newlywed.
Since Matthews' transplant, Stanford doctors have continued to
research the causes of heart failure, including the use of genetic
testing to diagnose the disease. Stanford cardiologist Nicholas
Leeper, MD, who oversaw Matthews' care while at Stanford, is
impressed by his progress.
Watch as Joe Matthews returns to the place where his transplanted
heart gave him new life.