The evening of his 39th day as a patient at University of Cincinnati Medical Center, Gary Sawyers was napping in a recliner next to the window in his hospital room when he felt the presence of someone else.
Opening his eyes, he spotted his doctor, Dr. Louis Benson Louis IV, Chief of Cardiac Surgery at UC Health, sitting on the edge of his hospital bed.
“Are you going to sleep, or give me time to put a heart in you tonight?” Dr. Louis asked.
Then, more serious: “We’ve got you a heart, and it’s a good match.”
By the next morning, a new heart would be beating strongly inside the chest of Gary, a 55-year-old father and Cincinnati Bell field operations employee who lives in Bluejay, Ohio, a small town in suburban Cincinnati.
Many heart transplant recipients spend years or even decades managing heart conditions before they reach end stage congestive heart failure and are placed on the transplant list.
But Gary Sawyers didn’t even know he was sick when he visited an emergency room near his home in late August 2017. Feeling ill, he figured he’d overdone it a bit while finishing the basement of his home, or maybe that chili with onions the other day had disagreed with him.
“I’ve never had heart problems,” he said. “I thought it was indigestion, but it wouldn’t go away.”
He and his family were shocked to learn that his heart was operating at just 5 percent capacity and that he was suffering from advanced heart failure.
Instead of spending Labor Day weekend relaxing with his family as planned, Gary was referred to UC Health and the advanced cardiac care team led by Dr. Louis and Dr. David Feldman at the UC Heart, Lung and Vascular Institute.
“They told me that I had had five to seven heart attacks,” Gary said. “I never knew.”