Doctors in the US had given Ronald Lemmer, 65, only a year to live and had scoffed at his idea of going to India for a heart transplant. They told him he would return in a coffin. Today, after a successful heart transplant at Apollo Hospitals in Chennai, Lemmer is smiling. So is India’s medical fraternity. For, till the 1980’s it was the Indians who went to the US for heart surgeries and Americans ever flying down for treatment was inconceivable.
Lemmer was transplanted with the heart of a 36-year-old accident victim in an eight-hour surgery on July 21. On Thursday, Apollo Hospitals presented him to the media. Lemmer will return to Minneapolis on August 10. Dr Paul Ramesh, one of the cardiothoracic surgeons who operated on Lemmer, said he is the oldest person to receive a new heart in India.
“Doctors in the US told me that I would have to wait a year to get a donor. I decided to come to India for the transplant after some research on the internet,” said Lemmer, who owns a glass business back home. In spite of a bypass surgery, an angioplasty with coronary stents and a pacemaker fitted in his heart, doctors in Minneapolis had told him that he had a mortality of 80% within one year.
His wife Shelly, visibly emotional, said, “When we left for India the doctors in the US told us that he would only come back in a coffin. My husband is a walking miracle. He looks at least 15 years younger. Earlier his heart was functioning at 20% of its capacity. Now it has gone up to 60%.”
After coming to Chennai in May this year, it was an excruciating wait of three months for the couple before Lemmer found a suitable donor. “He was very lucky as the donor’s heart did not match with any Indians on the waiting list and hence we selected him,” said Dr Prathap C Reddy, chairman of Apollo Hospitals.
Dr Reddy also stressed on creating awareness about organ donation. “On one hand there are people waiting for heart, liver and kidneys, while on the other hand organs are getting burnt,” he said.
Dr Paul Ramesh said a national registry for heart donors did not exist but there was a move to build one. Dr M R Girinath, chief cardiovascular surgeon of Apollo, said, “Dr Reddy started Apollo Hospitals in 1983 after a patient of his died because he couldn’t reach US in time for treatment. Now with the first patient from the US getting a heart transplant in India, we have come full circle.”