A heart transplant gives Idaho resident a new lease on life

[3 min read]

In this article:

  • As a teenager, Matt Hankes was diagnosed with a progressive form of heart disease that meant he would eventually need a heart transplant.
  • After having a successful heart transplant at Providence, Hankes is thankful to enjoy his favorite activities with his wife and two young daughters.
  • Consider signing up to become a registered organ donor to help people who need life-saving transplant surgery.

At the age of 15, Matt Hankes’ life was changed during a high school football game. After passing out on the field, Hankes was diagnosed with arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy, a rare and progressive form of heart disease that can lead to abnormal or fatal heart rhythms.

“Like every teenager, up to that point at least, I thought I was bulletproof,” says Hankes. “It was a shock to hear that I would likely need a heart transplant at some point later in my life.”

While contact sports were officially off-limits, Hankes continued to live his life as a healthy, active young man after receiving an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). With time, however, Hankes noticed his tachycardia, or abnormal heart rhythm, worsening. He recalls receiving uncomfortable shocks to restore his normal heart rhythm on several occasions but continued to spend time exercising and staying active outdoors.

In 2011, Hankes noticed it was getting harder and harder to complete his normal hikes. He jokes that the mountains in Idaho, where he lives with his wife and two daughters, just kept getting bigger. While he recognized that the cause was his heart function was slowing down, it still came as a blow to his active lifestyle.

In January of 2022, Hankes made a trip to the emergency department and spent several days in the intensive care unit (ICU) after surgery to repair a hole that had developed in his heart. The procedure was his ninth heart surgery and his care team at Sacred Heart Providence told Hankes he needed a heart transplant.

“It was a shock to hear, but I knew that heart failure was the endgame with my disease,” recalls Hankes. “There was no plan B, but I had complete faith in my team at Providence. I knew they were going to be very selective about finding the right heart for me and I was looking forward to a great outcome.”

From the moment Hankes and his wife met his transplant team at Providence, they felt confident he would get to the point of transplant. The first step to getting Hankes on the waiting list for a new heart was an intensive workup to ensure that his body could handle the surgery and to determine his placement on the national transplant waiting list. Patients are ranked on a scale from 1 to 7 to determine how urgently they need a new heart. Hankes was ranked as a 4 and told that he could expect to wait for six to 12 months for his transplant.

For months, Hankes answered every call that came to his cell phone hoping for the news that he would be getting a new heart. He was driving home from work on a Friday when he got the call that a match was available for him. After an eight-hour surgery and ten days in the hospital, Hankes went home with a new heart on February 14, 2023.

“While it wasn’t planned that I would be going home on Valentine’s Day, it seemed fitting to be back with my wife and daughters on a holiday that celebrates love,” says Hankes. “This experience has made me a more physically capable father and husband and I’m happy to be back in that role.”

Today, Hankes says he feels better physically than he has in almost 20 years.

“I’ve gone from struggling to carry my newborn daughter’s car seat across the parking lot to racing my girls to the mailbox and back,” says Hankes. “I’m back to enjoying my favorite activities and I feel so much better now when I’m hiking, skiing and exercising.”

He attributes his speedy recovery in part to his training and work as a physical therapist but stresses that it was a group effort with his expert medical team. He is grateful to everyone at Providence who helped him on the road to recovery, and especially to his donor.

“This experience has had a tremendous impact on my life and my family. My donor will have a special place in my thoughts for the rest of my life,” says Hankes. “I would encourage everyone who can to sign up to be an organ donor. So many people need the same help I’ve been fortunate to receive, and it’s been such a gift.”

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.