Thomas’ Story – Beating the Odds

Heart, kidney transplant recipient treasures gift of life.

By Amanda Nageleisen

Thomas Ashbrook knew that the odds and genetics were stacked against him. His grandfather suffered a heart attack before the age of 50, and two of his brothers had aneurysms at early ages.

So Ashbrook always tried to live a healthy, active life. He never drank alcohol or smoked, and he tried to eat right and exercise even while working long hours as a medical technologist to provide for his two daughters.

Still, heart disease struck him at the age of 60. After a quadruple bypass and several years of difficulties, Ashbrook turned to the cardiac experts at UC Health, who were able to perform the heart and kidney transplant that saved his life.

“The doctors and nurses at UC Health are just extraordinary,” he said. “There’s a level of dedication that you wouldn’t normally see. I wouldn’t go anywhere but UC Health now.”

It was his daughter, Lauren, a UC Health physician, who encouraged him to see the cardiac experts at the UC Heart, Lung and Vascular Institute, including David Feldman, MD, PhD, and Louis Benson Louis IV, MD. They recommended an LVAD pump, a mechanical device to help Ashbrook’s heart continue pumping, but he convinced them that he could improve his health through exercise and healthy living—and he did.



“It’s a team effort: the doctors and nurses engaged me in my care and actually listened,” he said. “And as a patient, you have to trust the doctors and do what they ask you to do, and you have to dedicate yourself to doing your part.”

Still, the condition of his heart and kidney continued to deteriorate, and it became clear that only a transplant would allow Ashbrook to see his four grandchildren grow up.

In April 2017, at the age of 66, Ashbrook had a heart and kidney transplant at UC Medical Center—a gift he treasures each day.

Ten months post-transplant, he exercises every morning, pushing himself a little bit farther each day in order to be able to walk in the AHA Heart Mini. Next year, he hopes to run in the race. He is also able to drive several hours each week to visit with his 93-year-old father, and to pick up two of his granddaughters from school every day.

“You’ve been given a gift, and you have to do your best to take care of it,” he said. “Transplant recipients need to understand that they’re part of a team, and you have a responsibility to take care of yourself and not let the team down.”

About Heart Transplant

UC Health’s heart transplant program was approved in the fall by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for participation in the Medicare program under “Special Requirements for Transplant Centers.” The program, which re-started in February 2016, has now performed 16 transplants and is within the top 10 percent in the nation for survival rates. To receive certification from CMS, the program had to perform 10 transplants within a specific time frame and prove a number of successful outcomes.