Deborah Heritage will never forget the day her husband, John, awoke after his liver transplant surgery in San Antonio. "He was like a new person," Deborah said. "It was like a switch had turned on transporting him from death's door to life again."
Just two months earlier, while living in Chicago, the Heritages had been told by physicians there that John's rare AB blood type would most likely prevent him from undergoing transplant surgery
But Deborah's determination to help her husband led her to the University Transplant Center, a partnership of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and University Health System. Upon her first phone interview with the Center staff, Deborah said she felt an immediate connection. From then on and during the couple's move to San Antonio, Deborah said the encouragement and support they received from the staff made them feel like part of the Health Science Center family.
In June of 2004 John received a new liver and a new lease on life in San Antonio. "Not only did the surgery save his life, the excellent post-op care John received prolonged and enhanced his quality of life for five years after his transplant. John passed away on November 23, 2009 of complications from esophageal cancer.
To celebrate her husband's life and to recognize the individualized and compassionate care he received from the UT Health Science Center physicians, nurses and medical staff, Deborah has established the John D. and Deborah Heritage Endowed Award for Excellence in Transplantation.
Funds from the endowment will provide a yearly award, the "Heritage Award for Outstanding Transplant Resident," to outstanding transplant surgery residents who will be known as "Heritage Scholars."
Deborah recalls the night after John's surgery. The surgeon on call that evening was Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D. The couple was unaware that Dr. Cigarroa was, at that time, president of the UT Health Science Center. "When we learned who Dr. Cigarroa was, we couldn't believe that the president of the UT Health Science Center would take the time to make patient visits," Deborah said. His genuine concern and care for John made a deep and lasting impression on both of them. Now chancellor of The University of Texas System, Dr. Cigarroa remains on the Health Science Center faculty, continues to perform transplant surgery, and along with his faculty colleagues, continues to inspire young residents and future transplant surgeons to provide the utmost care to patients.
Deborah said the gift of the endowment honors the very personal care the physicians and staff tailored to fit John's needs and his personality.
"The doctors and nurses gave John the opportunity to live for at least five additional years because of their medical expertise, personal commitment and dedication to him as a patient, but more importantly to him as a person," she said.
Deborah Heritage's generous gift gives transplant surgery residents the opportunity to touch the lives of countless others like John in need of a second chance and hope for a healthier future.
In addition to this current gift, Deborah has named the UT Health Science Center the partial beneficiary of several life insurance policies which will increase her endowment in the future.
"That is the double joy of this gift." "For now, I am able to enjoy meeting the young doctors that win the Heritage award each year and know that in the future my extra gifts will increase my support of additional talented physicians in the field of transplantation.