STANFORD (KPIX 5) — A woman who got a second chance with a lifesaving transplant decided she could save a life herself.
“I think most people don’t find out who their heart and lung transplant even came from. They don’t know anything about the donor,” 52-year-old heart transplant recipient Linda Karr said.
Linda received 51-year-old Tammy Griffin’s heart.
“I think it’s amazing that I can meet the person who has my heart. How many people can say that?” Tammy Griffin said.
Tammy received the heart and lungs from a deceased 21-year-old donor.
Tammy had cystic fibrosis, so receiving lungs was critical. Her heart was functioning well, but was pushed out of its normal position. A lung-heart transplant was her only option, but Tammy wanted to know if she could give her heart to someone else.
“I asked if my heart was still good and everything. They said, ‘yeah,’ and I said, ‘well, why don’t I donate it?’” Tammy said.
Tammy’s heart was a miracle match for Linda, who was diagnosed almost 20 years ago with a genetic heart disease. Her health was declining, and she couldn’t even walk her dog anymore.
So, the two women who had never met wound up on the same hospital floor at Stanford, receiving lifesaving organs in a rare domino transplant procedure.
“All together, there is probably about 30 people involved in these two transplant operations,” Dr. Joseph Woo said.
Woo coordinated the surgical teams. One surgical team removed the heart and lungs from the deceased donor, a second team implanted them in Tammy, and a third team implanted Tammy’s heart in Linda.
“This is essentially a once in a lifetime situation,” Woo said.
The surgery was touch and go, where both women weren’t quite sure about the outcome, until the surgery was complete.
“In terms of actual domino operation, this operation is extraordinarily rare. The last one done here at Stanford was 22 years ago,” Woo explained.
While the identities of donors and recipients remain confidential, Tammy and Linda wanted to meet. Two months after their life-saving transplants, they met. Even more remarkable, Tammy was able to hear her heart beating in Linda.
“Yeah, that was emotional,” Linda said.
Both women said their health is improving daily. They both wear masks outdoors while their bodies heal and get stronger, and Linda is slowly able to exercise again.