Friday, August 14, 2009

A strongman’s second chance

A STRONGMAN AGAIN: Murphy at Total Performance Gym

Few can imagine being strong enough to pull a 45,000-pound dump truck filled with sand using just strength alone. But for 25-year-old weight lifter and personal trainer Jim Murphy, this feat was nothing extraordinary. Up until 2005, Murphy was in peak physical condition and competed in amateur strongman events -- contests that test an individual’s strength in tasks such as the 750-pound tire dead lift, 300-pound stone carry and vehicle pull.

Everything changed, though, in the fall of 2005. Murphy began to easily tire and become short of breath doing even simple tasks. When he nearly passed out carrying a friend's TV up a flight of stairs, he knew something was not right. At his local hospital, Murphy was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart weakens and becomes enlarged, compromising blood flow. His physician treated him with medication and referred him to the MGH Heart Center for further evaluation.

Working with Stephanie Moore, MD, of the MGH Heart Failure Service, and Jagmeet Singh, MD, PhD, of the Cardiac Resynchronization Therapy (CRT) Pro-gram, Murphy received specialized care and advice from a collaborative group of staff from the MGH Heart Failure Service, Cardiac Transplant Program, Cardiac Ar-rhythmia Service and Echocardiography Service. Moore determined that his con-dition, which included heart failure, fluid in his lungs and a blood clot in the apex of his heart, required immediate attention and admitted him to the hospital. Singh and the CRT staff implanted a biventricular pacemaker in Murphy’s chest to synchronize his heart’s pumping action to healthy levels. While undergoing treatment, Murphy reluctantly but respectfully obeyed Moore’s orders and took a break from weight training to avoid stressing his heart.

"In time, Jim would need a heart transplant," says Moore. "So it was important for him to avoid overtaxing his body and potentially worsening his heart with hard exercise."

A year went by, and with medication and the pacemaker, Murphy’s condition stabilized. Then, in a tragic turn of events, his father was diagnosed with stomach and liver cancer. Only six months later, his father died.

Devastated and emotionally broken by his father's death, Murphy’s heart condition deteriorated.

"My father's passing was a really big blow," says Murphy. "Losing someone that close hurts, and it still does. I felt like my heart literally was broken."

Murphy's condition quickly declined to the point where he could not walk 25 feet without becoming winded. He was admitted to the MGH, and his name was added to the heart transplant list. Thomas MacGillivray, MD, of Cardiothoracic Surgery, evaluated Murphy for an artificial heart pump to implant if a donor heart did not become available in time.

"Dr. MacGillivray told me that my kidneys, liver and other organs were shutting down due to my heart's weakened state," says Murphy. "It was a Sunday, and he told me that we would wait until Wednesday for a donor heart to become available. Then the only option at that point would be to have the artificial heart pump implanted until a donor heart was found."

Using donorNET, a computerized donor allocation list that tracks the availability of organs from across the country, the MGH Transplant Center was able to identify a healthy heart for Murphy within three days of his being listed.

MacGillivray and Bruce Rosengard, MD, both members of the cardiac surgical team, successfully transplanted the heart in June 2008. Murphy was most re-lieved not for himself but for his mother, who he did not want to have to go through losing a son within months of losing her husband.

Today Murphy is once again strong and back to training for strongman events. Only 14 months since the heart transplant, he will be competing in a national strongman contest that will challenge his strength, which has greatly increased not only physically but also in spirit, as he continues to strengthen with every workout.