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INDIANAPOLIS- An Indianapolis man had to wait weeks for a lifesaving transplant after COVID 19 put organ transplants on hold. Now a few months later, he’s recovering at home after receiving the first heart transplant at IU Health since the pandemic.

“It kinda tears me up when I start thinking about it,” 66-year-old Forrest Wooley Jr. said, holding back tears.

On Valentine’s Day, Wooley went into cardiac arrest multiple times. He was taken to the hospital, where he flatlined.

“They were able to bring me back after about 9 minutes roughly,” Wooley said. “My brain was without oxygen. They called my family and told them to get down there to basically say their farewells.”

About 30 members of his family showed up to say goodbye, but Wooley wasn’t ready. Shortly after he woke up and began improving. All he needed now was a new heart until COVID 19 got in the way.

“It had a major impact,” said Dr. Jose Garcia, Surgical Director for IU Health Heart and Lung Transplantation. “We had to shut down our program basically for about 2 months.”

With concerns over COVID 19 and lack of appropriate testing, transplants came to a halt, with no timeline on when they’d be back. Thousands of people around the country, including Wooley, had to wait.

Dr. Garcia said patients in need of a transplant usually won’t survive a full year without a new organ.

“If you start shutting down programs for a month or two months, that’s a big chunk of the time they have to be on the waitlist,” Dr. Garcia said. “That could’ve been catastrophic if it continued to be shut down.”

After multiple hurdles and 3 months in the hospital, Wooley had a donor lined up. After surgery, he had his new heart.

“That is truly the gift of life,” Dr. Garcia said. “To take somebody who is getting chest compressions for 30 minutes, considered expired by most people, bring him back, then stabilize him, optimize him, then transplant him, through this virus that’s all going on… and he walks and goes home.”

“That truly is the gift of life. That’s what transplants should be about.”

Wooley is now undergoing physical therapy. He’s able to walk and has no brain damage. This past weekend, he and his kids marked another Father’s Day together, celebrating the gift of life and each other.

“By the grace of God, I’m here,” Wooley said. “Anybody who doesn’t believe in miracles, you’re talking to one right now.”

Wooley wants to give a special shout out and thank you to his surgeons Dr. Garcia, and Dr. Kromah.