Man undergoes heart transplant: ‘I see a bright future’

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- One of the first patients to receive a heart transplant in West Michigan is now thanking the doctors who helped keep him alive. Perry Charleston, 53, was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy at age 38.

"I looked at it as a death sentence," he said.

When Charleston was three years old, he lost his father to congestive heart failure. Two decades later, he lost his twin and an older brother to the exact same thing.

"I watched my brothers die. I watched my dad die," said Charleston.

After watching three of his family members die with bad hearts, Charleston figured there wasn't much hope for his own life. With a heart that wasn't pumping enough blood, he figured he had just 10 years to live.

That is until he met Dr. Michael G. Dickinson, medical director of heart failure and heart transplants at Spectrum Health.

"This guy came along and threw a monkey wrench in my whole plan," Charleston said.

That plan involved a heart transplant that would give Charleston more years to live.

"Meeting Perry was important to help him realize there was hope and there are a lot of things we can do," Dickinson said.

Charleston was placed on several medications and then given an a artificial heart pump for about 14 months, preparing him for the transplant.

"I never thought this would happen, that I would go through a transplant, Charleston said. "It's a really scary scenario, but once it's said and done, I would go through it all again."

Charleston is now married with two kids, Perry Jr., 9, and Ashanti, 2.

"Every time I wake up, you look at the world totally different," Charleston said. "You don't sweat the small things anymore, you just live life."

Charleston plans to reach out to his donor by the end of the year.

Dr. Dickinson says the average heart transplant patient is able to live 10 years or more.

It's been about five years since Spectrum doctors performed their first heart transplant at the Meijer Heart Center downtown Grand Rapids. Doctors at Spectrum have already performed about 18 heart transplants this year.

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