Surfer and college rugby player Joe Matthews was a model for health and well-being. No one could ever have predicted that the 19-year-old would soon be diagnosed with idiopathic cardiomyopathy—heart failure from unknown cause. Within the span of a few weeks, he went from active and fit to fighting for his life.
After Matthews felt unusually short of breath during a rugby game, an examination revealed Matthews had two common symptoms of heart failure: fluid-filled lungs and an enlarged heart. His doctor transferred him to Stanford to have a heart defibrillator implanted to control his heart's irregular beat rhythm.
The last step of that procedure was to test the defibrillator's ability to control his heart rhythm. Almost immediately, his heart stopped beating and he was rushed into emergency surgery. This time, doctors installed a mechanical pump called a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) to get his heart pumping again and keep it that way.
Matthews awoke to learn that even the pump would note be enough: He needed a new heart. A few weeks later, he received a transplanted heart through the Stanford Heart Transplant Program, the site of the first adult heart transplant in the U.S.
That was in April of 2006. Today, he's a model of transplant patient fitness and winner of many medals in track and field at the World Transplant Games. When he's not training for competitions, he’s an avid cyclist. He's even playing rugby again. Matthews is also enjoying life as a newlywed.
Since Matthews' transplant, Stanford doctors have continued to research the causes of heart failure, including the use of genetic testing to diagnose the disease. Stanford cardiologist Nicholas Leeper, MD, who oversaw Matthews' care while at Stanford, is impressed by his progress.
Watch as Joe Matthews returns to the place where his transplanted heart gave him new life. The full story