A brutal case of pneumonia four years ago put Richard Powell on a path that would eventually lead him to a Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas operating room for a heart transplant weeks before Christmas.
When Powell first got sick in early 2010, he was treated at a hospital in his home city of Monroe, Louisiana, for about a month. He was in an induced coma for days. The 61-year-old insurance salesman suffered septic shock and nearly died.
“They called my family together and told them they might want to come in and say their goodbyes,” said Powell, who is also a diabetic. “I was fortunate … God’s leniency was enough to let me survive.”
But Powell’s health problems were only beginning. Over the next few years, because of poor health, the divorced father and grandfather spent time living with his brother in Houston and his adult son in Trophy Club, with periodic stays at his own home in Monroe.
“He could not get well,” said his son, Ryan Powell. “He was coming back and forth to Dallas and just couldn’t really get healed up.”
Richard Powell had some of his toes amputated because of complications from his diabetes, among other problems.
On Memorial Day weekend of last year, Ryan, his wife and two sons visited Richard in Monroe.
“He looked awful,” Ryan said of his father. “He was short of breath. He was [suffering from] an infected foot … we just knew something major was wrong and he wasn’t getting the care he needed.”
After consulting with a physician friend, Ryan decided to bring his father to Texas for care. Over the ensuing months, he was treated at Baylor Regional Medical Center at Grapevine and Baylor Dallas for congestive heart failure. Doctors told him his heart was pumping at about 15 percent of capacity and he needed a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD). Ultimately, he would likely need a transplant.
Gonzalo V. Gonzalez-Stawinski, MD, chief of heart transplantation at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, completed the LVAD surgery in August of 2013 and, over the next few months, Richard showed great progress. He moved back to Monroe and went back to work. He would come to Dallas for checkups and the doctors here advised him in recent months that he would be a good candidate for a heart transplant.
Electrical issues with his LVAD in the weeks since Thanksgiving landed him back in Dallas and he was activated on the transplant list earlier this month. Within days, on December 11, Richard Powell got the call. A match donor heart was headed to Dallas for him.
The transplant — believed to be the record 94th conducted by Baylor Dallas this year — was a success and Richard was out of the hospital and back at his son’s home eight days later.
“It’s a Christmas miracle, it truly is,” Ryan said.
Richard said he feels lucky that his son’s family happened to live in the Dallas area. Otherwise, he likely would not have ended up at Baylor for his treatment.
“I just feel like it was divine intervention that I’m here,” he said. “It is just really a miracle. Things have just fallen in place through God’s order and God’s time.”
Richard has a long recovery ahead, as the first year after a heart transplant is typically the toughest. His diabetes is another potential complication, so the cardiac transplant team will be monitoring him closely.
His care team has little doubt that he is up for the next challenge.
“He’s been an amazing patient,” said Sandra Carey, PhD, ANP-BC, the outpatient nurse practitioner for transplant and advanced heart failure at Baylor Dallas. “He’ll do whatever you ask of him.”
The post-transplant recovery is “a very individual journey,” Carey said. But “I think because he’s so motivated he’ll do extraordinarily well.”