Tim Dobbs speaks about himself as if he’s nothing special. He’s 54, lives in Broken Arrow, attends church and worked for an IT company for 26 years.
His eyes light up when he talks about his family, especially his grandchildren. He looks happy and healthy. One might never suspect that just a month ago, neither was true.
On Feb. 25, Dobbs received a new heart at Integris Baptist Medical Center. The transplant was a turning point in Dobbs’ life and a milestone for the Nazih Zuhdi Transplant Institute. Dobbs is the 500th person to receive a heart transplant there.
The first Oklahoma heart transplant was performed by Dr. Nazih Zuhdi in 1985, 29 years ago almost to the day of Dobbs’ surgery. To commemorate the event, Integris staff presented Dobbs a red heart-shaped pillow with “500” written on it.
To Dobbs, the number isn’t important. What matters to him is the steady, rhythmic beating the keepsake represents.
“The whole staff here is just wonderful,” he said. “Thanks to them, I hope I’ll be able to get back to a somewhat normal life. I’ve got two little grandkids, and I couldn’t play with them or anything until now. I’ll be able to pick them up and have fun again.”
Hayden Scanlon already has plans for his grandfather. Written on the pillow, in an 8-year-old’s handwriting, is the message, “Get well soon so that we can go camping.”
It will be one camping trip that is well-deserved and long overdue. Dobbs has had eight heart attacks since 2001. The most recent, in October, put him in a coma. When he woke up, doctors informed him his heart had deteriorated irreparably.
“The doctor told me, ‘You’re going to need a heart transplant,’” Dobbs said. “It was kind of a shock to hear.”
Potential recipients cannot have any other pressing health concerns that could interfere with the success of the transplant. In mid-February, Dobbs was approved and placed on the waiting list. A week later he was scheduled for surgery. Although the operation carried risks, Dobbs knew he had everything to gain if the transplant was a success.
“I was at the point where I could hardly do anything,” he said. “I’d get out of bed in the morning and walk to the kitchen, and by the time I got there I’d have to sit down again just to catch my breath.”
Overseeing the transplant process was Dr. David Nelson. He has been chief of Heart Transplant Medicine at Integris’ Nazih Zuhdi Transplant Institute since 1994 and has worked with hundreds of transplant recipients. Nelson said Dobbs’ recovery is one of the best he’s seen.
“He’s already well ahead of the curve,” Nelson said. “Right after we’d removed the tubes from his mouth following the surgery he was sitting up in bed, reading a paper. We joked that we could send him home tomorrow.”
Sustaining the vision
Although Dobbs has returned home, he will continue to check in with Dr. Nelson over the next few years. Dobbs will be on a regimen of three medications to make sure his body doesn’t reject the transplant.
The medical center has performed one heart transplant every week since the start of 2014.
“We’re very proud of our accomplishments,” Nelson said. “We owe a lot to the vision Dr. Zuhdi had. Everyone thought he was nuts to start a program here, but because of his persistence Oklahomans now benefit from having an excellent transplant program here at a private facility.”
The experience at Integris has inspired Dobbs to help others in need of transplants. His children have organized several fundraisers in his name, with proceeds going to the National Foundation for Transplants. On Saturday, St. Anne Catholic Church in Broken Arrow will hold a silent auction and pancake breakfast.
But neither Dobbs nor his family want to stop there.
“We’re already planning next month’s event,” said daughter Natalie Scanlon. “My dad’s talked about wanting to get into the volunteer work. He wants to help people the same way he’s been helped.”
Dobbs does not know the identity of the person whose heart now beats in his chest, but he says he would like to find out someday. He wants to be able to thank the relatives.
“I would like to tell them how much of a blessing it was to me,” Dobbs said. “It’s something that can never be paid back. I can’t give enough credit to them, or the Lord, or all the doctors here. I know it’s changed my outlook on life altogether.”