Patient receives heart transplant after only 10 days on transplant list

‘We’re going to get you a new heart’: 71 year old father and avid surfer received heart transplant just 10 days after being on the list.

A heart transplant was the last thing John Knox, 71, of Tennessee ever thought he might need.


A member of a surf club for 53 years, he had traveled the world surfing and was more fit than most people his age. So he was caught off guard when he began experiencing breathing difficulties. His doctor diagnosed John with asthma. But after a year on medication and using an inhaler, his condition continued to worsen.

"It got to the point where I went four or five days without sleeping," said John. "I felt like I was drowning, and I was getting depressed."

Concerned that his asthma was spiraling out of control, John went to the ER.

"The doctor checked me out and told me I didn't have asthma -- I was experiencing congestive heart failure," said John.

With heart medication, John was able to manage his heart condition for eight years. However, after a move with his wife to Knoxville, Tennessee, his health began deteriorating once again.

"I couldn't walk 10 feet without getting out of breath," said John.

John was rushed to a nearby ER, where the cardiologist referred him to Ascension Saint Thomas Hospital West in Nashville, Tennessee.

Under the care of Advanced Heart Failure and Transplant Cardiologist Don Chomsky, MD, John's health was evaluated extensively.

"The doctors told me I wouldn't last if I was put on a heart transplant list," said John.

The team at Ascension Saint Thomas Heart recommended that John receive a left ventricular assist device (LVAD). The hospital ranks in the top 1% for getting a heart transplant faster and the top 5% for survival on the waiting list, according to The Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients.

"They decided to set me up with a LVAD so that I could get stronger and healthy enough to receive a heart transplant," said John.

With the help of an LVAD, which is implanted into the chest to help pump blood from the lower left heart chamber to the rest of the body, John was able to gain enough strength after five months to be put on the heart transplant list. Ten days later, he learned that a heart was available for him.

"I was shocked," said John. "I had the mindset that it would take months to find a new heart. Everything just fell into place."

Ashok Babu, MD, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Ascension Saint Thomas Heart West, performed the successful heart transplant surgery. Now, several months later, John's heart is beating strongly, and still has no signs of rejection.

"I just had a fantastic experience at Ascension," said John. "I never thought at 71 that I would be a candidate for a new heart. I am still in disbelief. God was on my shoulder the whole way. I feel like I have a second chance at life."

Get the heart care that is right for you with Ascension Saint Thomas Heart. Learn more about the heart transplant program.