First triple-organ transplant in Arizona history gives a new chance at life

Apr 5, 2023, 4:35 AM | Updated: 9:58 am

Doyle Duke (right) with his wife Billie. Taken by (Mayo Clinic Photo)...

Doyle Duke (right) with his wife Billie. Taken by (Mayo Clinic Photo)

(Mayo Clinic Photo)

PHOENIX — A Valley hospital recently made Arizona history, performing the first ever triple-organ transplant in the state.

Since Doyle Duke first picked up a bat and ball at 8-years old, all he wanted to do was play baseball. As an undersized pitcher, the doubters and the dream to play in the big leagues drove him to persevere, even being named “Pitcher of the Year” twice in high school.

But that dream was never meant to be.

During a routine physical when he was 14 years old, doctors found a heart murmur, which eventually led to a cardiologist diagnosing Duke with Idiopathic Hypertrophic Subaortic Stenosis (IHSS), also known as Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, where the heart muscle becomes too thick, making it difficult to pump blood.

While his “heart” was still into baseball, his physical one wouldn’t let that happen.

“If any school looked at me, they knew—they found out I had heart disease. I was shot down…That’s all I wanted to do. I was very depressed, very upset,” Duke said.

It would become a lifelong battle for him, now 53 years old. Duke and his doctors in Oklahoma tried everything, including a pacemaker and five separate heart ablations, but his bad heart was causing other organs to fail. “It was just like a stack of dominoes,” Duke said.

His medical team reached out to the Mayo Clinic in Arizona for help.

“Because of his heart disease, his liver became affected and he developed liver cirrhosis and then he also had chronic kidney disease,” Dr. Bashar Aqel, the medical director of the liver transplant program at Mayo Clinic, said

Duke would need not just a new heart, but a liver and kidney transplant as well. Aqel said a procedure like this is incredibly rare with just two or three happening in the country per year.

“To date, a total of only 42 triple transplants have been performed in the U.S. since we started tracking the numbers. Meaning only 42 patients received a combined heart, liver, kidney transplant at the same session from the same donor,” Aqel said.

A single-organ transplant requires plenty of time and manpower, let alone three of them.

“Say for a liver transplant team, the team members including the surgeons, the hepatologists, the nursing and the advance practitioner, the anesthesiologist are involved with a single organ transplant. Once we talk about a triple organ transplant, you can multiply this number by three and even more,” Aqel said.

In December 2022, Duke underwent the triple organ transplant. It was a momentous day both in his life and Arizona’s history.

The complex surgery took about 15-hours, but when it was done, Duke was a new person. Although it took him a long time to fully recover, he knew right away something had changed.

“I could feel it right off the bat, because this thing was beating like 120 beats a minute. It was just pounding out of my chest. I’m like, ‘that’s different! I’m not used to that!’” Duke said.

Now that he is out of the hospital and feeling better than he ever has, he has plenty he wants to see and do that he couldn’t before, like travel and watch plenty more of his grandchildren’s baseball games.

The new organs brought new opportunities and a bunch of gratitude, and Duke made sure to credit the doctors and hospital that allowed that to happen.

But even that maybe pales in comparison to the gratitude felt and the connection he now shares with the donor who made it all possible who didn’t just give him better organs but made him a better person.

“I lay down at night and I think, ‘this is somebody else’s parts. I need to do better. I need to get better — stronger,” Duke said. “So that’s what I’d probably tell him. I’m trying my best for you…”

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First triple-organ transplant in Arizona history gives a new chance at life