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Cheney's heart transplant sparks age debate

March 30, 2012 4:55:16 PM PDT
This week, there's been debate over the age of people getting transplants after former Vice President Dick Cheney received a heart transplant at 71. But the world's biggest heart transplant center here in Houston says that's not unusual. They say older people sometimes do better.

Charles Liszcz makes weekly visits to heart transplant patients. He got a heart transplant himself seven years ago at age 68.

"I think it was a fair decision I receive the heart," Liszcz said.

Gordon Wyrick had a heart transplant 12 years ago at age 64.

"I asked the Lord, 'Lord just let me live long enough to let my kids grow up,'" Wyrick said.

Now he helps victims of crime. Both men had heart transplants at Texas Heart Institute, which has done 1,253 -- more than any place in the world. A growing number are in their 60's and 70's, and they've done surprisingly well.

"They reject less and they tend to have good outcomes," said cardiologist Dr. Reynolds Delgado with the Texas Heart Institute transplant team.

Dr. Delgado has worked with hundreds of transplant patients.

"The young people often we shorten their life spans by doing transplants, because a transplanted organ on average lasts 12 years," Dr. Delgado said.

So he says it's not about competing for organs but getting the best match.

"It's a national system so you can't game the system in any way," Dr. Delgado said.

"I was actually the fourth person down the list, the fourth region down the list, which may have involved hundreds of people," Liszcz said.

For Sandra Wyrick, her husband's extra 12 years of life have been precious.

"I pray for them everyday, for the medical people and what they have done for our lives," she said.

Dr. Delgado holds a list of the 131 people now waiting for a heart. Each one is hoping for the phone call that will mean a new life.

Experts say the real issue isn't competition for organs but too few donors. Transplants are limited to about 2,000 a year in the US because so few people agree to be organ donors.


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