In many ways, November 2014 was the best of times for Tim Gallagher.
The successful toll-tag company he’d founded, Dallas-based ETC, was celebrating its 15th anniversary. And Gallagher had recently started exercising, dropping 25 pounds to weigh just 178—”the fittest I’d been in 20 years,” he remembers.
But then, on Nov. 11, 2014, working out in his home gym, Gallagher suffered a type of heart attack so severe that’s it’s become known as the “widow-maker.”
“I felt fatigued,” he remembers about that day. “I laid back on the bed and felt pressure on my chest. I called my wife.” Recalls Gallagher’s wife, Terri: “He said, ‘I think I’m having a heart attack!’ Our son Greyson called 9-1-1. We heard a scream. [Tim] was passed out on the floor.”
Because the left ventricle in his heart was completely blocked, Gallagher easily could have died. Instead, he wound up being transported to Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, where he would eventually become the 100th patient in 2014 to receive a heart transplant. The Gallaghers recalled the ordeal last month at the December board meeting of the Baylor Health Care System Foundation.
The couple was introduced at the board meeting by Dr. Shelley Hall, BUMC’s chief of transplant cardiology and mechanical circulatory support and heart failure. Hall, who’s nationally recognized in the transplant community, explained that the hospital’s job was to keep Gallagher in “good enough shape” that he could eventually get a new heart.
In time he was hooked up to a temporary support device called an “extracorporeal membrane oxygenation,” or ECMO machine, and placed on the transplant list with 1A status. That designation meant he probably couldn’t survive more than a week without a transplant.
Gallagher’s name was placed on the list on Dec. 20, 2014. “The next day at 2 p.m., I got a call telling us we had a donor,” Terri Gallagher told attendees at the board meeting, her eyes misting at the memory. The transplant operation—which typically takes anywhere from four to 12 hours—was performed successfully on Gallagher on Dec. 22.
This coming April 21, more than three years since the surgery, the Gallaghers will serve as the chairs and gala chair for the American Heart Association’s 2018 Cotes du Couer event series, the nation’s largest Heart Ball.
Summed up Tim, who will share his survivor story again at the gala: “Statistically, I think I’m a miracle.”