Peoria, IL,
17:02 PM

30 Years and Counting for Peoria's First Heart Transplant Patient

Doris Thomas of Marseilles, IL Thriving with "New" Heart at 85

April, 27, 1987 is a day forever etched in the memory of Doris Thomas. At 55-years-old, the Marseilles, Illinois resident became the first person to receive a heart transplant in Peoria at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center.

Now 85 (she will turn 86 on May 9), Thomas returns to Peoria twice a year for a check-up with her cardiologists. The visit on Wednesday, April 26, was a special one complete with cake, plenty of smiles and hugs, and a reunion of many of the team of surgeons, cardiologists, nurses and others who played a role in the historic surgery 30 years ago.

Diagnosed with one of the most common forms of heart failure, idiopathic cardiomyopathy, Thomas was told by her physician in Ottawa, Illinois that her heart was three times normal size and she needed a heart transplant. Without it, she was told she'd have about a year to live.

Doris-1 Year to Live w-o Heart

Her positive attitude - then and now - meant Thomas was not afraid of being the first heart transplant patient by the Peoria team. She remembers vividly transplant coordinator Carol Stables (now Linett) and nurse Carol Koch getting her on a stationary bike 48 hours post surgery. Both were on hand for the 30th anniversary celebration

The length of survival such as Thomas' is rare, with current recipients expected to get about 20 years. In the 80s, with immunosuppressant drugs just emerging, the average life expectancy was closer to 5 - 10 years.

In the 30 years since, Thomas has been able to enjoy life with her five children, seven grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, survived two cancer diagnoses, traveled the country and other parts of the world.

She knows little about her donor except that she was from the Rockford area. Thomas is eternally grateful for the gift of a new heart and the extra years she continues to enjoy.

I am forever grateful to that family. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them.”
Doris Thomas, Peoria's First Heart Transplant Recipient

Dr. Fred Hoy was one of the surgeons on the historic case. He trained in Pittsburgh, doing about 20 heart transplants there before helping prepare the Peoria team. Dr. Hoy, now retired, says the team was excited but cautious in its care of Thomas, keeping her hospitalized longer than subsequent cases. It's gratifying for him to see her doing so well.

Hoy-Gratifying How Well Doris Doing

The Downstate Heart Transplant Center team did 208 transplants, the last in 2006, ending the program as medical advances decreased the need for transplants and reimbursements to such center's changed.

April is organ donor awareness month. Both Doris Thomas and Dr. Hoy encourage everyone to be an organ donor and share their wishes with their family.