Life’s ‘a hoot’ after heart transplant

It has been 18 months since Terry Green was wheeled out of surgery as Emory’s 500th heart transplant recipient.

And not a day has gone by that Green, 62, of Lawrenceville, has not loved his extra time.

“It’s been a hoot,” he said. “I don’t sweat the small stuff. I used to get frustrated every now and then.”

Green was felled by a heart attack in 1997 while on a Bahamas cruise with his wife of 37 years, Danette. A pain spread across his chest, and he immediately went to the ship’s infirmary.

Before a Nassau ambulance service would take him to a hospital, Green went into cardiac arrest three times. His condition stabilized, and he returned to Atlanta with no aftereffects for the next nine years.

But in late 2006, his heart condition deteriorated to the point where it was operating at bare minimum.

By late January 2008, he was admitted to Emory where doctors kept him until the transplant was performed in March.

“I went in the week before the Super Bowl, just expecting a tuneup, but the doctors decided to keep me,” he said. “I tried to talk [the doctors] into letting me go to a Super Bowl party, but they wouldn’t let me. They wanted me primed and ready to go.”

Retired from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources since 2002, Green works part time as a waiter and bus boy at Hometown Barbeque on Lawrenceville Highway. The fifth-generation Gwinnettian said he’s “kin to half the people who come through here, and I know the other half.”

Owner George Richbourg said he hired Green in 2004 because he saw him walking up and down the street every day for exercise.

“He seemed to adapt to retirement too easily,” Richbourg said, laughing.

Since the operation, Green said he’s seen his strength and vitality return. And while his drug regimen of a dozen medications has not changed much, his visits to the hospital for heart biopsies have decreased from every couple of weeks to once every three months.

He said he hopes to stabilize enough with his medication to reduce those visits further.

“I think the folks at Emory are pleased with my progress,” he said. “They’re sort of like a family to me.”

When he’s not working and visiting with friends at the restaurant, Green loves to shag dance. He was shag dancing when he had his heart attack on the cruise ship, and he’s picked up where he left off.

Lee Mitchell, a friend from Lawrenceville, is part of the entourage traveling to dance competitions.

“Before this [heart transplant], he had zero energy,” said Mitchell, 53. “Now he can get on the dance floor and sometimes outdo me.”

Green smiled.

“The heart does really well,” he said. “But the next day, the body of a 62-year-old pays the price.”