SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah doctors performed a very rare heart-liver transplant recently on a Utah man who had suffered at least 16 heart attacks in the past nine years.
Michael Mader, 31, waited nearly two years before having surgery on April 23. He was released May 6, and impressed doctors when he showed up a news conference last week looking fit and healthy.
He was diagnosed at the age of 3 with a rare liver disease which led to heart problems. Mader had his first heart attack when he was 22, and lost count there were so many over the next several years. He was so sick that he had been told at one point to get his affairs in order and prepare for his death.
Mader, of West Jordan, said he already feels more energetic and is breathing and sleeping better.
"It was the best gift anyone could receive," said Mader at a Thursday news conference according to the Deseret News.
Officials say it was the first such procedure done an adult patient in the Intermountain states of Utah, Idaho, Nevada and Wyoming. Nationwide, these procedures are very rare. In 2012, there were 22 transplants done in the country, shows data from the United Network for Organ Sharing. There have been 132 done in the last 25 years, the network data shows.
Last year, Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City did a heart-liver transplant on a 13-year-old Arizona boy.
His mother, Susan Mader Nab, said she she's ecstatic to see her son finally healthy.
"He's never had any prognosis that was anything but poor," said Nab, of Lewiston, Idaho, according to the Deseret News. "Michael has been held back his whole life by heart disease."
The surgery took meticulous planning, and lasted eight hours. The first four hours of surgery were devoted to doing the heart transplant. Another team of doctors spent the next four hours doing the liver transplant.
"I can't tell you the hours that went into the planning of this and the game plan," said surgeon Kent Jones, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. "It was monumental, and it involved hundreds of people."
Doctors prefer both the heart and liver come from the same donor to reduce the risk of post-surgery complications. That was the case for Mader. He said he'll be eternally grateful to the donor.
"I feel bad for the family, but I just can't thank them enough," he said. "They saved my life."