Heart, kidney transplant patient celebrates his extra 8 years, donor’s family

A local Houston man is celebrating this American Heart Month for many reasons. It's the eighth anniversary of his heart and kidney transplant and his daughter also shares a birthday with Valentine's Day. He shares his journey as well as introduces us to his new family through the power of donation.

Ray Anderson survived congestive heart failure for almost a decade. "I remember feeling very sick and barely made it to the emergency room. I woke up to bright lights and the doctor told me that I was very sick," explains Anderson.

He's had a tough time. Losing his wife to cancer was a lot for his heart to take. "We got a call from our satellite hospital in The Woodlands saying that Mr. Anderson had been a frequent visitor to their emergency room or hospital with decompensated heart failure and coming in with fluid overload and shortness of breath, leg swelling, and he was not able to keep this fluid off," explains Dr. Sriram Nathan, Advanced Heart Failure Cardiologist with UTHealth and Memorial Hermann has been treating Ray since 2015.

HEALTH: Allergy alert: Early spring blooms are here and could mean ‘a longer and more intense pollen season'

At that time, he suggested Ray consider having a left ventricular assist device or LVAD implanted in his chest to help pump blood to the rest of his body. "He was the very first LVAD implantation in our center," explains Dr. Nathan.

Anderson admits he felt like a guinea pig at the time as the first one to try it, but he trusted Dr. Nathan and realized he was out of options. It worked well for three years.

"Now we have to go to the next stage to a heart transplant, so we worked him up for a heart transplant and a kidney transplant together because he did have underlying kidney dysfunction," says Dr. Nathan.

Anderson was forced to stay in the hospital for weeks, his body too weak to make it on his own, waiting for a heart and kidney transplant. Then he got the phone call: a perfect match.

"She said, I got a heart for you. I was just overwhelmed. I said, do you have my kidney, and she said yes! Everything was just amazing," Anderson said, with tears streaming down his face at the memory.

The gain for him did mean the loss for another family: Stacey Harsey's 23-year-old son, Cody. "He had his struggles and passed away from an accidental overdose, but at the time, he had been doing really good," explains Harsey.

SUGGESTED: High-fat foods may help rid body of intestinal parasite, study finds

Cody had just found out he was going to be a new dad and thought he had his whole life ahead of him. He had chosen to be an organ donor when he was a teenager and now his legacy lives on in Ray Anderson.

"I just try to stay positive and keep his memory alive. He really had a really kind heart, he really did. He cared about people. I remember when he was in the hospital, friends would come in and tell me he would take up for people, so he really did have a kind of heart, he loved to mess with me though," says Stacey, laughing through her tears.

Knowing his life has meaning by helping Anderson has been a lifesaver for Harsey and their family. They are incredibly close to Ray and their relationship has continued to grow over the past seven years. "It's amazing and I kind of treat him like he's my child, I baby him too much, probably too much, like I did my son," says Stacey.

She has been able to hear her son's heartbeat in Anderson's chest. "We were doing a photo shoot at Memorial Hermann and the photographer told me to put my head on his heart and that's when I first really heard it, so of course, I started bawling, but it was crazy. It was just awesome," says Stacey.


She wears a special necklace with what looks like a heartbeat on a monitor to help keep his memory alive. "My son-in-law and his girlfriend gave it to me. It reminds me that his heart still beats," explains Stacey. Ray couldn't be more thankful for his second chance. "I want to say that it's been a joyful and wonderful eight years, and I'm hoping to say many, many more," stated Anderson.

Dr. Nathan says he could've just received the organs and kept to himself, but instead, Anderson has become a major spokesperson for Memorial Hermann, constantly walking patients through what they can expect when dealing with either LVAD or heart transplants and he has enhanced the lives of many people.

To learn more about the truth about organ donation, click here.