NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — An Elizabethton, Tennessee, man who has battled heart health issues for almost half of his life has received a heart transplant on Valentine’s Day.
Skip Ramey and his wife Mary, have lived in Elizabethton for more than 30 years. The couple just celebrated their 37th anniversary this past Wednesday, but the celebration was a difficult one considering Skip Ramey was confined to a hospital bed.
Ramey has been in the Vanderbilt hospital in Nashville for almost two months, and prior to that, he spent a number of nights in and out of Ballad Health’s Johnson City Medical Center and Sycamore Shoals hospital.
According to Ramey’s son, Mel Ramey, he said his father suffered from a heart attack at the age of 39. Ever since the heart attack, his father hasn’t been 100% and has suffered from a number of heart-health related issues throughout the years.
In recent months, his health began to deteriorate even further. His children said Ramey’s heart was only functioning at about 10% and they knew immediate action needed to be taken. It was at that time the family decided to move him from treatment in Johnson City to Nashville.
His daughter, Kristy Fenner, said they packed up and drove the four and a half hours to Nashville. She said had they waited any longer, her father may not be here today.
“Those doctors, they thought he was having a heart attack right there and they told us we were lucky,” said Skip Ramey’s Daughter, Kristy Fenner.
Mel Ramey noted a difference in his father in the first few weeks of treatment at Vanderbilt hospital, but still, he stated that times were tough.
His father had lost a total of 43 pounds in just a week and a half. At one point, the doctors said if Skip did not receive a heart within the next 30 to 45 days, he would most likely not make it.
His daughters tell News Channel 11 there was a point when he was thought to be too weak for a transplant, which worried them further. Along with Skip’s heart, his kidneys also began failing, however, he was able to pull through and became strong enough to be listed on the transplant list.
He was placed on the list on Friday, February 7. Earlier this week, he was told they had a heart but it was bad and they could not give it to him. The news of this saddened the family, especially since Skip’s 62nd birthday and 37th wedding anniversary happened to be this past Wednesday.
Skip joked that he would have a heart for his birthday, but little did he know the heart he was waiting for would come two days later on the day of love, known as Valentine’s Day.
“I couldn’t do anything but cry. It was just joy for him and joy for me and my family because it was a second chance,” said Mel Ramey.
The heart transplant started around 5:30 a.m. central time and lasted about 6 hours. The family said the surgeons notified them frequently with updates and everything went smoothly. By noon, Skip Ramey was no longer in surgery and said to be stable resting in his bed.
His son said he’s incredibly grateful to the donor and does not know what would have happened had a heart not become available. “It makes you wonder, had we not taken him to Vanderbilt, would he have survived? It’s a second chance for him, for us, and for my kids to have him,” said Mel Ramey.
Skip is a father to three children and eight grandchildren. Prior to surgery, his son said his father promised to be more active with everyone as soon as he was fully recovered. “He told me you better be ready because when I get out of here, I’m going to walk your legs off,” said Mel Ramey.
While receiving a heart on his birthday would have been a great gift, his family said Valentine’s Day now carries a deeper meaning than they ever thought possible.
“That just means more than anything on Valentine’s Day could ever mean. Getting this new heart is like a new life for him and for us because we get him a little bit longer,” said Tasha Dykes, Skip Ramey’s Daughter.
With the transplant complete, the hard times are not yet over. His family tells News Channel 11 that Skip will spend a week in ICU followed by a number of therapy treatments throughout the weeks to follow. He is expected to spend at least two more months in the hospital before being released.
The family wants to thank everyone who prayed, donated and was there for them during this tough time. With the number of hospital treatments undergone so far and the treatments in the coming weeks, the family has set up a GoFundMe to help with costs.