Thursday, June 4, 2009

A strongman's second chance

Few can imagine being strong enough to pull a dump truck filled with sand totaling 45,000 pounds using just his or her strength. But, for 25-year-old personal trainer and weight lifter Jim Murphy, this task was nothing out of the ordinary. 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 vehicle pull, 300-pound stone carry and 750-pound tire dead lift.

Everything changed, though, in the fall of 2005. Murphy noticed that he was easily tiring and experiencing shortness of breath doing the simplest of tasks. When he nearly passed out while carrying a friend’s TV up a flight of stairs, he knew something was not right.

At the North Shore Medical Center, Murphy was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart weakens and becomes enlarged, compromising blood flow. Cardiologist, Michael S. Katcher, MD, treated Murphy with medication and referred him to the Massachusetts General Hospital Heart Center for further evaluation.

Working with Stephanie Moore, MD, of the Heart Failure Service, and Jagmeet Singh, MD, PhD, of the Cardiac Resynchronization Therapy (CRT) Program, Murphy received specialized care and advice from a collaborative group of staff from the Mass General Heart Failure and Cardiac Transplant Program, Cardiac Arrhythmia Service and echocardiography services. Moore assessed that his condition, 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 right away. Singh and 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 doctors’ orders and took a break from weight training to avoid stressing his heart.

A year went by, and with medication and the pacemaker, Murphy’s condition was stabilized. He felt that he neither was getting better nor getting worse. Then, in a tragic turn of events, Murphy’s father was diagnosed with stomach and liver cancer, and only six months later, his father died. Moore describes Murphy’s heart as being devastated and emotionally broken by his father’s death, and his heart condition worsened.

Finding a healthy heart

With his heart continuing to decline, Murphy was admitted to Mass General, and his name was posted to the heart transplant list. Using "donorNET," a computerized donor allocation list that tracks the availability of organs from across the country, the Mass General Transplant Center was able to identify a healthy heart for Murphy within four days of his being listed. Members of the cardiac surgery team successfully transplanted the heart, and Murphy was discharged home eight days later.

Today Murphy is back to training for the 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 work out.

“I consider Dr. Moore and all of the nurses and doctors at Mass General my friends,” he says. “To stop in for an appointment and have everyone know what I went through and having been there for me is an incredible feeling. I owe them my life and this second chance at life. My mother is extremely grateful that she didn’t lose her son.”

In 2008, the Transplant Center completed the most heart transplants in the region. According to Moore, Murphy is just one example of the great successes of the program.

Learn more about the Heart Center and the Transplant Center at Mass General.

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