Double organ transplant performed at Vanderbilt during pandemic

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Cindy and Gary Lee Marr, Jr.’s phone rang Saturday morning May 30. On the other end, was a nurse from Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

“When she started telling me what was going on, I was like crying and slamming my hand on the chair and said, we gotta go,” said Gary.

In a heartbeat, Gary’s life changed. Hours later, without missing a beat doctors, wheeled him into the operating room.

“He was volume overloaded, his kidneys had failed to the point that he was requiring dialysis, and his heart had failed,” explained heart transplant surgeon Dr. Jordan Hoffman with VUMC.

The heart and kidney of a 19-year-old man killed in an ATV accident had been flown from Minneapolis to Nashville.

Behind the scenes, more than 30 people worked to arrange the transfer complicated by the COVID pandemic and social unrest.

“They were having curfews in Minneapolis,” said Dr. Ashish Shah chairman of cardiac surgery at VUMC, “so we had to be able to get these organs out in a reasonable time.”

Time was of the essence for Gary too. Diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 18, he’d endured years of dialysis as the diseases damaged his body.

“I lost the hearing in my right ear. I lost some balance and some digits are missing,” he said.

During their 31 years of marriage, Cindy and Gary raised two sons. Unlike many families who are experiencing social distancing for the first time, the Marrs know nothing else.

“Living with someone that is chronically ill you start to realize, as time goes on, that you change your way,” said Marr’s wife Cindy.

Now, the idea of enjoying life after COVID has new meaning.

“We feel hopeful. Like oh, we can do that at some point here soon,” laughed Cindy.

Hope made possible by doctors who persevered and the generosity of strangers the Marrs would like to meet.

“Our family, our boys included, want to give them a proper thank you,” Cindy said.

In the meantime, Gary is working on another project.

He explains through tears, “I can call medical records and they can get a picture and video of the heart beating inside my chest. I was wanting to send that to them if there’s any way possible. That would be so cool.”

COVID-19 in Tennessee

(This reflects what the TDH is reporting each day at 2 p.m. CST )

Stay with News 2 for continuing coverage of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

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