News : 2011 : December

Heart Transplant Patient Celebrates 25 Years

Back in 1986, Homestead resident Mark Frye discovered quite by accident that he had, at best, a year to live, so he thrust himself into the role of medical pioneer. Just 26 at the time, his heart was so enlarged he needed a new one, and he chose an untested but well-prepared team at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Hospital to perform South Florida’s first heart transplant.

Twenty-five years later, Frye returned to UM/Jackson last week to celebrate the vision and courage of the late Hooshang Bolooki, M.D., the legendary professor of surgery who launched UM/Jackson’s heart transplant program and assembled the team, including the first medical director, Eduardo de Marchena, M.D., now professor of medicine and surgery and associate dean for international medicine, and the first nurse coordinator, Laurie Futterman, ARNP, now a science teacher, who earned Frye’s unwavering faith with their dedication and compassion.

“I could have gone to California. I had the means and the insurance,” Frye said after the November 30 news conference at Jackson’s Diagnostic Treatment Center. “But once I came here and met Laurie Futterman and Dr. de Marchena and Dr. Bolooki, they treated me like I was family and I knew they’d do a good job. I had no doubts about it.’

His faith was obviously not misplaced. Surrounded by de Marchena, Futterman, anesthesiologist Michael Barron, M.D., now associate professor of clinical anesthesiology and medical director of perioperative services, and members of Bolooki’s family, Frye was nervous to face a bank of TV cameras again, but deeply grateful to be able to cut the commemorative cake emblazoned with a large red heart surrounding the number 25.

“I’m very thankful that I did get the transplant,’’ he said. “It’s given me 25 years I didn’t have before the transplant. Hopefully I’ll get another 25 years.’’
Paying tribute to Bolooki for laying the foundation, Si Pham, M.D., professor of surgery and chief of the Division of Heart and Lung Transplantation, noted that UM/Jackson has performed 548 more heart transplants, including a second one on Frye 11 years ago, since the inaugural transplant and was recently ranked among the nation’s top three heart transplant programs.

Today, Pham added, heart transplant patients usually return home about nine days after their surgery, compared to the three weeks Frye spent hospitalized after his. UM/Jackson also has one of the highest three-year survival rates, besting the national average by 10 percent.

But it was history, and the courage it took to make it, that Frye and current and former members of the transplant program celebrated last week. De Marchena recalled how focused Bolooki, who died three years ago, was on bringing to Florida the only therapy available for heart patients who were out of options. And he remembered how brave Frye was to place his faith in a team whose only track record was months of preparation and hundreds of hours of rehearsal.

“It’s like being an astronaut, where you trust a team of people (on the ground) but at the end of the day you’re the one who gets into the capsule,’’ de Marchena said of Frye. “We grew up together. I was 32 and he was 26 and now we’re both middle-aged men, so it’s really cool to see Mark.’’

Drawing a round of laughter, de Marchena quickly added that it’s not so cool to be a middle-aged man, but Frye, who once thought he’d never see his infant sons grow up, begged to differ. It wasn’t until that day in 1986, when he was knocked down by a back hoe at his family tool rental business in south Miami-Dade County, that he discovered his heart, crippled by idiopathic cardiomyopathy, was so weak it was barely pumping enough blood to keep him alive.
“The back hoe accident was just fortuitous,’’ de Marchena said. “Because he had to go to the hospital it was discovered he had the problem.’’

Frye’s good luck held when, on Thanksgiving Day, just two months after he was placed on the transplant list, the call came that a heart harvested from a person who committed suicide in Broward County was a perfect match. It was time to turn practice into perfection.

“I can still remember the emotion of it,’’ said de Marchena, who credited Dr. Bolooki’s intensity and coolness for the success of that first heart transplant, a long journey which WPLG-Channel 10 chronicled from beginning to end.

Twenty-five years later, Frye stood with de Marchena, Futterman and Bolooki’s widow Joanne, middle son Cyrus and brother Hamid to watch that historic video, and remember the extraordinary physician who dared to make UM/Jackson one of the nation’s best heart transplant centers.

“Mark is living proof of what my dad did,’’ Cyrus Bolooki said. “I am so glad to finally meet him.”