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Suzanne Simpson: One Woman’s Heart – Part Five


Heart TransplantThe Vanderbilt Extraction Team had taken flight, to retrieve the heart Suzanne needed.

There was excitement in the air, as family and friends gathered in the waiting room.

David and Suzanne spent some final moments together, as the medications began to sedate her. He sat in the bed with his wife and hugged her.

He told her he loved her and he would be waiting for her when the operation ended.

David would not be able to hold back his emotions much longer.

Suzanne said, “It’s ok.”

David and Suzanne had received the news that a heart was available.  They fought their way through a paralyzing snowstorm to get to the hospital.  Once they arrived, the medical team began to ‘prep” Suzanne for her surgery.  They were taking their time, and trying new procedures.  The donor was being kept on life support, so there was no hurry.

The problem was the weather.

The Vanderbilt Life Flight was not able to fly. They were concerned that they would not be able to retrieve the organ.

Suzanne would wait nearly two days before it was determined that the team could retrieve the heart.  David had overheard the doctors talking in the hallway that they might not be able to retrieve the organ, and the operation would be called off.  They would classify it as a “dry run.”  As David went back into Suzanne’s room, nurses were monitoring her condition.  When doctors came in, they were about to cancel the procedure.

At that moment, another member of the medical team entered the room and shouted, “They’ve taken off.  It’s a go!”

David and Suzanne could hear the powerful engines of the helicopter taking off from the roof of the hospital.

It was time.

The Procedure

Heart Donor

Heart Donor

Heart Transplants have been perfected over the years, with the improvement of technology, and medications.  When an organ meets the requirements for a transplant, the recipient is called into the hospital, and prepared for surgery.

The transplant doctors will be checking the donor organ while the recipient is being evaluated and started on medications.  If the donated organ is a good match, then it’s determined that the procedure can proceed.

The recipient is put to sleep with an anesthetic, and one of the surgeons will begin the process of preparing the chest cavity for removal of the diseased heart.

The surgeon will begin by exposing the chest cavity through a cut in the ribcage.  The surgeon will then open the pericardium(a membrane that covers the entire heart) in order to remove the diseased heart.  The back part of the recipients own left atrium will be left in place, but the rest of the heart will be removed.

The new heart will be carefully trimmed and sewn to fit the remaining parts of the old heart.  The method is called an “Orthotopic Procedure.”  This is the most common method used to transplant hearts.

Medications will be given both before and during the operation to prevent rejection of the new heart.  After the procedure, the patient will be taken to a special unit for recovery.  The procedure could take 8-12 hours to complete.

The Vanderbilt Transplant Team had dispatched their “Extraction Team” to go get the donor heart.  It’s their responsibility to remove the organ from the donor, check it for a match, check for any disease, then contact the Transplant Team with their results.  The Transplant Team then informs the recipient that they have a match, and would they still want to continue?

Suzanne said “Yes.”

The Extraction Team then prepares the organ for transport, and they fly back to Nashville for the operation.

Suzanne Simpson at Nashville Heart Walk

Suzanne Simpson at Nashville Heart Walk

The waiting room was filled with family and friends.  Suzanne’s daughter Melanie and her husband Tony were there along with Ted and Jean Purdom.  Suzanne’s son Brad was still in Knoxville and told to stay there because of the weather.

David was getting very anxious.  It was time.

Ted and Jean Purdom are both retired military officers.   They’ve been married forty years.  The Simpsons have been close friends of the Purdoms since they met at First Baptist Church.

Ted, a commanding figure who had seen his fair share of war and conflict had seen it all, but this was different.  David’s wife was sick, and could die.

Ted knows that pain.

“When my wife Jean had her stroke, the first person I called was Suzanne Simpson” Ted says.  She and Jean had become very close through their bible study, and we needed our “prayer warriors” to help.  Suzanne is my “little angel” and she immediately took up the charge.  I can’t tell you what it feels like to face the possibility of losing your wife.  It was devastating, and Suzanne was there for us.”

David was busy tending to his wife.  He would go back and forth from her room and update those who were waiting.  The anxiety was getting to be too much, but Suzanne was calm through all the chaos.

“”The nurses were just preparing me for my surgery, and I had a real calm about what was going on” said Suzie.  “I would pray with them, and just get myself ready for the surgery.  God had assured me that it was going to be ok.  I remember that I was starting to get a little drowsy, so I’m not real sure on a lot of details.”

The Vanderbilt Extraction Team had retrieved the organ and was flying back to Nashville.

Melanie remembers how calm her mother was before surgery.

“She was so relaxed as the doctors and nurses were coming and going” she said.  “Mom reminded me that there were no promises.  God was in control and she was at peace with it.”

David couldn’t stop thinking about what his life would be like without Suzanne.  He was trying to keep it together.

“I remember that they took their time getting her ready” he said.  “Suzanne was calm and peaceful, but I was a total wreck inside.”

Once the Extraction Team had arrived, it was time to take Suzanne to the operating room.  It was time for David to be with her one last time before surgery.  Suzanne doesn’t remember what that moment was about.

David remembers it vividly.

“I was sitting in the bed with her, trying not to get emotional.  I hugged her, took her by the hand and gave her a kiss.  I told her I loved her, and I would see her after the surgery.  She just looked up at me and said, it’s ok.”

It was difficult for David to watch them take Suzanne away.  The emotions of the moment were overwhelming.

Suzanne and David

Suzanne and David

A heart transplant normally takes 6-12 hours to complete.  David settled in with the others in the waiting room.  Ted Purdom could tell David was struggling.  He sensed David’s pain.  He had been there.

David got up and left the waiting room.  His emotions were at a fever pitch.  He couldn’t hold it back any longer. He had been strong for so long, but now, he had to let it go.

Ted knew he should go to David.

He found David in the hall, and he put his arm around him.  This big, strong military man, who had seen it all, looked at David and said, “I want to pray with you” and for the first time, David let himself go.  He cried like he had never cried before and Ted cried with him.

And they prayed.

They prayed like they had never prayed before.

God had this now.

Nurses took Suzanne to the operating room at 5:15pm, Friday, February 11th, 2011.  It had been two years since they learned this is what Suzanne needed.  Nurses would tell David at 8:30pm that “everything is fine, she’s doing good.”

At 10:30pm, the doctor came out and got David.

“It went well” he said.  “She’s fine.”

They took Suzanne to the recovery room.  David would not be allowed to see her until the next morning.

He describes what that moment was like.

“It was a prayer moment” he said.  “I was never so relieved in my life to see her look up at me.”

Suzanne Simpson would defy all odds.  She was not supposed to live this long waiting on a donor.  She would make a remarkable recovery.  She would perform ahead of schedule and be home in no time.

Jean Purdom describes seeing Suzanne after the surgery.

“She looked so good.  Her color had returned.  We had our “Suzie” back.  God is good.”

Her daughter Melanie said, “Mom was great.  We prayed and thanked God for his blessings.  She was really more worried about her parents, and wondered if they knew, and how they were doing.”

Brad Simpson remembers the first time he saw his mother after the surgery.

“Mom had a smile on her face, and this smile was different.  It was a smile of relief and joy.  I was so excited for her.”

It’s been two years since Suzanne’s heart transplant.  Her quality of life has improved 100%.  But life after transplant is a disciplined regimen of exercise, diet and medications.

Suzanne Simpson baking at home

Suzanne Simpson baking at home

There is always the risk of rejection.

Suzanne’s body is in constant conflict with the new heart.  She is required to take an extensive list of medications to help fight off any rejection of the new organ.  For the rest of her life, she will have to make changes in her lifestyle.  Medications must be taken at certain times, she must watch her diet, and must exercise to keep her body strong.

Suzanne has no immune system.  She can’t be around anyone who is sick.  The slightest illness could be devastating.

She also has to deal with the side effects that the medications cause.  Some of the side effects can be unpleasant.  She has to monitor her blood pressure, and live with the fact that she is more prone to illness than before.

She works with the Vanderbilt Transplant Team to monitor her condition and learn more about living an active and healthy life.

It was her only choice.

Suzanne just completed her two year check-up and came away with flying colors.

Bible verse“I would not be here if it were not for God” she said.  “I could have never made it through this experience without my faith.  I want every person who reads this story to understand that God is in control.  He is powerful and he will heal you.  You will always have hope when you have God.  I pray that every person who is facing a life changing illness or injury will trust in God and turn your life over to him.  We are nothing without hope, and God is my hope and prayer for everyone.”

Editors Note

Suzanne does not know who the donor is, or the circumstances surrounding that person’s death.  She has written a letter to the donor’s family expressing her prayers and gratitude for their gift.  It is the responsibility of the donor’s family to reach out to the recipient.  Suzanne says she prays for that family every day.

Suzanne has never heard from the donors family.

Organ donation is a personal decision.  Each of us have the opportunity to save a life through organ donation.

To learn more about organ donation, visit

About Hank Bonecutter




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