Successful Heart Transplant Ends Patient’s Long Wait

Times Staff Writer

An excruciating wait and more than 50 days on a mechanical life-support system ended for a young Costa Mesa man Sunday when doctors replaced his virus-damaged heart in a successful transplant.

Raymond Smallcomb, 22, was recuperating Monday after surgery in which Sharp Memorial Hospital doctors attached a donor heart taken from a Central California man in his early 20s, according to Judy Coburn, transplant coordinator at Sharp. Smallcomb’s liver and kidneys were functioning normally with the transplant, doctors said.

The new heart was in place and working by 3 a.m. Sunday, Coburn said. It had earlier been flown to San Diego, packed in a sterile plastic bag and kept at 5 degrees Celsius in a saline solution in a cooler. It arrived at Lindbergh Field just after 1 a.m.


A transplant team of doctors, nurses and assistants from Sharp flew to Central California Saturday night to retrieve the heart with blood type O, Coburn said.

Smallcomb was alert Monday after the surgery that ended at 8:30 a.m. Sunday. He had been up from his bed twice, said his father, Thomas Smallcomb, adding that the transplant “was right, and we knew that it would eventually happen.”

He said that, although his son was in some pain from the surgery, “he is doing tremendous.”

“The first thing he did is, we have this little sign language and squeezing each other’s hand means I love you. He squeezed my hand the hardest . . . he has since he’s been here.”

Sunday’s surgery marked the painful end of Smallcomb’s dependance on an acute ventricular assist device that had been pumping oxygen-rich blood in place of his heart’s left side, which had been devastated by an unknown virus. The same virus has claimed the lives of his mother, a sister and seven other blood relatives.