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Tennessee is the home of the National Foundation for Transplants headquarters.  Although records are sketchy, it appears it may also be the state that holds a unique piece of transplant history.

On September 7, 1985, Dr. David Glassford, now retired, performed a heart transplant on the first female patient in Tennessee at Saint Thomas West in Nashville.  The hospital launched Tennessee’s first heart transplant program and is now known as Ascension Saint Thomas Hospital.  The patient, Jan Shasteen Vaughn, currently age 76, received her heart transplant 35 years ago.   She celebrated with family and friends last week.

Her heart began to fail while she was pregnant with her first born, a daughter named Carrie.  Her family noticed a decline in Jan’s health during the third trimester of her pregnancy in 1975.  It was the beginning of numerous medical appointments, experimental treatments, and serious consultations with her doctors.  Jan was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a rare disease of the heart muscle sometimes triggered by pregnancy.

By 1985, she was too weak to work, attend church, and she struggled to perform simple tasks.  In an article at The Tennessee Tribune, her weakness was described as, “. . . a ‘black tired’ – a weariness so deep that she sometimes couldn’t walk from bed to the shower.”  Jan was in the fight of her life.  Her physician presented the idea of a heart transplant.  The Tennessee Tribune reported on those days of uncertainty for Jan and her husband, “It [the transplant] would require moving cross-country to California and going into severe debt.”  Then the couple learned two pieces of miraculous news that would change everything.  “Saint Thomas West was launching Tennessee’s first heart transplant program and the procedure would be covered by their insurance.”  Armed with new information, a transplant didn’t seem out of reach.

On the day of her surgery, family and friends showed up at the hospital to offer her support.  Transplant history was made.  Jan became the 6th person in Tennessee and the first woman to receive a heart transplant.

That was 35 years ago this past September.  Today, Jan and her husband, Mike, now share a home in Florida with daughter Carrie, their son-in-law, and their grandkids.  She told The Tennessee Tribune, “It has been a beautiful ride.”

Jan faces one more hurdle.  The anti-rejection drugs she’s required to take have helped Jan retain her heart but also triggered kidney failure. Jan is in the process of being added to a waitlist for a new kidney.

With the bravery she demonstrated 35 years ago, Jan looks forward to jumping this hurdle too and continuing to enjoy living the life she has been given.

Read more about Jan’s historic transplant here.  If you or a loved one need help offsetting medical cost related to a transplant or in becoming a Living Donor consider allowing the National Foundation for Transplants to be your partner on your transplant journey.