Windsor heart transplant patient recovering

Published 10:18 am Saturday, November 13, 2010

WINDSOR—Mike Stephens is 53, but he’s had the heart of a 43-year-old since July.

That’s when doctors at Sentara Heart Hospital in Norfolk performed heart transplantation surgery on Stephens, whose heart was weak and needed the assistance of a mechanical device to pump blood throughout his body.

The Windsor father of four remembers being in a local store when he got the call on July 28 that a heart was available. About an hour and a half later, he arrived at the hospital surrounded by family, friends and church members.

“I threw my hands up and said ‘I’m ready,’” Stephens said.

His sister, Karla Cobb, said the mood in the hospital was “like one big party.” She and her father actually saw doctors getting off the helicopter holding a blue cooler containing Stephens’ new heart.

“It was just like you see on TV,” Cobb said.

After the surgery, family members learned that Stephens’ new heart wasn’t functioning properly and he remained unconscious for a month.

“Hours turned into days, and all we had was each other, along with a lot of prayers, knowing God was in full control of this,” Cobb said. “I never once gave up hope.”

Stephens and his family credit God for what they call a miraculous recovery after the uncertainty following the surgery.

“I’m not real sure that I know everything I went through even now,” Stephens said. “I’ve been told bits and pieces as time went on.”

Judy Robinson, Stephens’ fiancée, posted his condition and solicited prayers through a website called CaringBridge.

After spending 72 days in the hospital, Stephens came home in early October. He said his family received overwhelming community support.

“That’s just the nature of our area,” Stephens said. “It’s amazing the way people support each other in times like this.”

While he and his family are excited he is on the road to recovery, they can’t help but think about the heart donor’s family. All Stephens knows about his donor is that he was a 43-year-old from the Charlottesville area.

“It’s hard to celebrate life when there’s someone on the other side that’s grieving for a loved one,” Stephens said.

He hopes to meet with the donor’s family in the future.

Stephens said he’s getting stronger everyday and feels better than he has in years.

“As far as my heart, I’m doing extra well,” he said. “The main thing is to fight rejection.”

Since the transplant, Stephens said he’s noticed some changes in himself, including an affinity for chocolate.

“I find myself with tendencies of things that I say and think and do that I didn’t do before,” he said. “They say sometimes you pick up tendencies from the donor organs, especially hearts.”

Stephens was recently voted to serve as the chairman for the Isle of Wight County Fair Committee for the next two years. He’s also looking forward to once again coaching baseball and basketball at Isle of Wight Academy.

Stephens and Cobb both encourage everyone to become an organ donor.

“I’m a donor, naturally I won’t be able to donate a heart,” Stephens said. “But they’re doing eyes and skin and so much now in the industry that hopefully when the time comes I’ll be able to offer something to somebody in return for what I’ve been offered.”

To help with astronomical medical bills from Stephens’ surgery and care, a benefit concert from Still Searchin and a barbecue dinner prepared by Nothin Butt Fun Cook Team is planned for Saturday, Nov. 20, at Tucker Swamp Baptist Church at 6 p.m.

For tickets, call 757-242-9992 or 757-376-0870.