Change of Heart

Photography provided by UC Health


It’s inspiring listening to 52-year-old David Waits of Hillsboro speak jovially about life after his heart transplant at the University of Cincinnati (UC) Medical Center two years ago. It’s miraculous, really, considering Waits literally dropped dead from a massive heart attack at home one cold, mid-December evening in 2014.


Waits was rushed by ambulance to a nearby hospital, then transferred to Bethesda North where TriHealth Heart Institute cardiac surgeon, Eric Okum, M.D. – after consulting with the UC Health cardiac surgery team – placed Waits on temporary life support. He was later transported to UC Medical Center, where Louis B. Louis IV, M.D., chief of cardiac surgery, implanted a mechanical pump to support Waits’ heart function. 


“They said I’d never work again,” recalls Waits, then a full-time construction worker. “In September 2015, Dr. Louis told me I had to have a new heart, or I wouldn’t make it. He never sugar-coated anything.”


So, one month later, Waits was hospitalized at UC Medical Center where he patiently waited 140 days for a new heart. Louis performed the eight-hour transplant surgery on February 2, 2016. Alan Simeone, M.D., UC Health cardiac surgeon, recovered the donor heart and assisted in the transplant. Waits was then placed under the watchful care of David Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., clinical director of the Heart, Lung and Vascular Institute at UC.


“I inherited some of my heart disease – it runs on both sides of my family,” Waits notes. “But I also worked too much, drank a lotta pop, smoked two to three packs of cigarettes a day … everything I was doing led me to that heart attack.”


Today, Waits – tobacco and pop free – is grateful to be alive, feeling great and enjoying life once again with his wife, Carol, and daughter, Brittany.


“Life’s good,” he says, his friendly voice brimming with enthusiasm. “It was a terrible thing to go through, but with a lot of blessings along the way. Before my heart attack, I worked seven days a week, away from my family. I’d come home, take a shower, eat a bite, go to bed, get up at 3 a.m. and do it all over again. Now, spending time with my family is more important. I’m very, very blessed.” Waits is heading back to work as a parttime truck driver, hauling blacktop. He and Carol make time for regular date nights now. “I don’t care what else is goin’ on, it’s about her and me,” he says. 


He also speaks to high school students on behalf of the LifeCenter Organ Donor Network – the organ procurement organization facilitating organ and tissue donations in 16 counties throughout the Tristate area and beyond – about the lifesaving importance of organ donation. Details about Waits heart donor, of course, are confidential. 


“It’s my way of giving back,” Waits says. He cannot heap enough praise upon doctors Louis and Feldman and the dozens of other UC Health professionals who played integral roles within the multidisciplinary team caring for him before and after his heart transplant. From nurses, critical care anesthesiologists and rehabilitation, physical and occupational therapists to pharmacists, advanced imaging and lab technicians, social workers and spiritual care providers – top-notch cardiac care takes a dedicated medical village. “If not for all of them, I wouldn’t be here. Some of them are family to us now,” Waits says. “It’s not a job to those people. It’s their life.


Better Lives, Longer Life Expectancy


Imagine – 100 kidney transplants performed in one year.


Clearly, a milestone worthy of the University of Cincinnati (UC) Health Transplant Program’s celebration in December 2017. A milestone reached, by the way, just days prior to the 50th anniversary of the first kidney transplant at UC Medical Center.



David Feldman, M.D., Ph.D.


To add a bit of commemorative context to this medical fete: the program performs almost twice the number of kidney transplants today as it did a decade ago – a concrete confirmation of the program’s continuing concerted multidisciplinary commitment to ensuring patients lead better lives and enjoy longer life expectancies.


“December’s transplant program gala reunited organ transplant recipients and their providers, and surgeons who began doing transplants back in the day,” recalls Louis B. Louis IV, M.D., chief of cardiac surgery at UC Medical Center. “In that room was the academic horsepower of the people who wrote the groundbreaking papers, who figured out the science and the immunology as it applied to kidneys, hearts and livers.”


The UC Department of Surgery, according to UC Health officials, has been a national leader in solid organ transplant since December 11, 1967, the day Ernest P. Harper – a 36-year-old Cincinnati police officer – received a kidney from his sister, Elizabeth, during the first organ transplant performed at UC Medical Center.


Five decades later, the UC Health Transplant program provides not only kidney, but heart, liver and pancreas transplants, as well as hepatobiliary (liver, pancreas, gallbladder and bile duct) surgery. The program’s clinical outcomes, prominent academic research and innovative programs and techniques have received national acclaim.


The kidney transplant program is nationally recognized for its achievements in paired kidney exchange, living kidney donation and anti-rejection medication. The heart transplant program, having performed 15 transplants since February 2016, is among the top 10 percent of heart transplant program survival rates in the country. The liver transplant program is heralded as one of the fastest growing in the nation, having performed more than 100 transplants in each of the past two years.


For more information about the UC Heath Transplant Program, visit