A New Heart and New Beginnings

Joey Moughan | Heart Recipient

Joey's journey began with a promising military career. However, in 2019, kidney issues halted his deployment plans. "It had appeared on some blood tests, and I would be unable to deploy with my Marines," Joey recalls. He returned home to monitor his kidney function more closely. During this period, Joey began dating Caroline, whom he had interned with a few summers earlier.

Fast forward to January 2021, after finishing a Marines weekend training session, Joey experienced sudden health issues. "I went to bed feeling normal," said Joey. "Around 2 AM, I woke up with severe abdominal discomfort. It felt like I had overeaten at Thanksgiving. I couldn’t fully expand my lungs. I thought I had contracted COVID-19 and visited a local clinic a few days later when my symptoms hadn't improved."

At Sentara Heart Hospital, Joey was diagnosed with end-stage dilated cardiomyopathy with an ejection fraction of only 5% (normal range is 55% to 66%). His heart was double the size of a healthy adult's. A mutation in his TTN gene predisposed him to certain heart conditions, but the exact cause of his heart failure remained unclear. Joey was placed on the heart transplant list, implanted with a subcutaneous defibrillator, and sent home with new medications.

Despite months of medication, Joey's condition didn’t improve. Although he felt physically better, his heart’s inability to pump excess fluid affected his digestive system. He rapidly gained water weight and felt full while still being hungry. He was readmitted to the hospital, upgraded on the transplant list, and given a pump for heart medication, which he wore in a fanny pack for nearly a year.

The medication provided extra energy and a chance to return to normalcy. Joey stayed active with careful exercise, disc golf, and traveling with Caroline, and they returned home engaged. They began planning their wedding, but fate had other plans. 

In mid-January 2022, less than two months before their wedding date, Joey became ill. Caroline called his transplant coordinator, who recommended immediate evaluation. Pneumonia, a high fever, and a blood infection caused Joey’s heart failure to worsen, necessitating his transfer to the Cardiac ICU. He was put on an Impella pump, a life support machine to rid his heart and lungs of excess fluid. The risky surgical implantation of the pump was fortunately successful.

Transferred to the Cardiac Surgery ICU, Joey and Caroline married on February 7th in his hospital bed. Just 12 days later, Joey received his new heart. He left the hospital two weeks later, 50 pounds lighter, able to shed the excess fluid.

Joey’s life transformed remarkably post-transplant. He and Caroline traveled across the country. Joey resumed activities he loved, like working out, jiu jitsu, and disc golf, without experiencing shortness of breath, dizziness, or any previous heart failure symptoms.

"I extend my deepest thanks to my heart donor and their family," Joey said. "I don’t know who you are, but you quite literally saved my life and the lives of several others through your decision to become an organ donor. It’s truly humbling to know that someone was brave enough to register as an organ donor, and I’m alive to be able to say this."