Methodist’s First Heart Transplant: ‘She Got 25 More Years’

Doctors were certain. Thirty-eight-year-old Annie Gardner’s heart had 12 months left – at most.

The muscle was steadily deteriorating. She wouldn’t get to see her 15-year-old son graduate high school. She would die within a year.

Unless… she received a heart transplant. But it was 1982 and a heart transplant had never been performed in Indiana.

For Gardner -- a Crawfordsville, Ind., woman who suffered from cardiomyopathy, a hereditary deterioration of the heart muscle -- it was her only chance.

In 1982, nearly 35 years ago, Dr. Harold Halbrook performed the state’s first heart transplant on Gardner at IU Health Methodist Hospital.

That one year of life she had left? It turned into 25. She saw her son graduate high school. She enjoyed water skiing. She became a precinct committeewoman. She participated in at least five World Transplant Games.

Gardner never took for granted those extra years of life. She knew they were a big deal.

The transplant was a big deal for Methodist and for Dr. Halbrook, too. The thoracic cardiovascular surgeon became a local celebrity, of sorts. 

In 1983, he received a Sagamore of the Wabash, the highest honor given by the governor of Indiana, and Dr. Halbrook was named “Indianapolis Star” Man Of The Year.  

In 1997, 15 years after Gardner’s first transplant, Dr. Halbrook was there for her again, performing a second heart transplant.

Gardner’s immune system had attacked the heart muscle and lining of the blood vessels and coronary arteries. Host-vs.-graft disease, where the body attacks foreign materials in the body, is common in transplant patients.

Gardner lived 10 more years with that second heart and died in 2007 at age 63. Dr. Halbrook died in 2004 at age 67.

Photos provided by IndyStar archives.

-- By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.

   Reach Benbow via email dbenbow@iuhealth.org or on Twitter @danabenbow.


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