Lincoln man credits healthy lifestyle for being a good heart transplant candidate at 74

LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) – February is American Heart Month, when the impacts and benefits of taking care of your heart are highlighted. For Jim Wagner, his efforts to keep his body in shape paid off when he had a life changing diagnosis.

“It’s something that’s not work for me,” Wagner said.

He has been coming to the YMCA to workout almost everyday since the 1970s. But that ease and routine of keeping his body active and moving took a turn in 2018.

“I felt fine. But, my primary care physician knew that there was something going on,” Wagner said. “I had some other heart related signs that tipped them off,”

Mr. Wagner learned he had a form of cardiomyopathy called ‘amyloidosis.’

His doctors explained that his body was producing an abnormal protein called amyloid.

In his case it was going to his heart causing it to thicken. The diagnosis was caused by a gene mutation, not heredity or lifestyle factors.

“I’d come out of a workout and I’d get very dizzy, I’d have to get off the machines,” Wagner said.

After several visits with doctors he ended up being referred to a cardiologist at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City. Upon minutes into the first conversation he found out some startling news.

“He said, ‘I’m treating about 100 people with your disease, you are the worst one I’m seeing right now.’”

The doctor explained that his only hope was a heart transplant.

“The fortunate thing is he looked at me and not my birthday,” Wagner said. Because at the time I was just shy of 74 years old,”

Wagner was the oldest heart transplant recipient at the KU Medical Center. He credits his active lifestyle leading up to the diagnosis that helped him be an excellent candidate at his age.

While waiting in the hospital, for 45 days he stuck to his routine.

“I got up at 5:30 in the morning, and I’d go out in the halls and walk before it got real busy,” he said.

Wagner had his surgery on Oct. 5, 2021. He was up and moving by the next day. Exactly one month later he returned to the office, and made the return to the YMCA in February of 2022. Now, he is back to his daily routine at the YMCA.

Mr. Wagner is thankful for the generous donation of his organ donor and he strives to take care of his new heart. He encourages people to take care of their heart health and sign up for organ donation.

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