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Heart Transplant Candidate Now A Reluctant Activist

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Heart Transplant Candidate Now A Reluctant Activist


Heart Transplant Candidate Now A Reluctant Activist

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Let's follow up now on the story of Randy Shepherd, an Arizona man in need of a heart transplant. He was one of 98 people authorized for an organ transplant under a state medical program. But he and the others have been scratched from the list because the state of Arizona is cutting back the program in an attempt to reduce a budget deficit. We told you this story last month. It's now drawing national attention. And NPR's Ted Robbins went back to see how Randy Shepherd is doing.

TED ROBBINS: The first time I visited Randy Shepherd at his home in Mesa, he was reluctant to put himself forward as the face of a controversy. Now he seems to be the go-to guy.


ROBBINS: It's a reporter from Bloomberg News on the phone. Add it to MSNBC, the New York Times, Forbes, ABC, and local media.

SHEPHERD: Just the amount of attention that we're getting. Not that - I mean I really dislike attention. I'm a private guy, but you know, it's leading to a greater end.

ROBBINS: That end would be a new heart for Shepherd. He was authorized to receive a transplant by Arizona's version of Medicaid - called AHCCCS. Then the Arizona legislature and Governor Jan Brewer rescinded the authorization to help solve a budget deficit. That was unheard of. The cuts took effect in October.

One patient has died since then, though doctors say even a transplant would not have saved him. For Randy, the issue's exposure has led to good things. Following our first story, a woman started a Facebook page called Give Randy Shepherd His Heart. That and other exposure has led to nearly $60,000 in contributions to help Randy Shepherd through the National Transplant Assistance Fund.

SHEPHERD: I'm overwhelmed at what people have done on my behalf. You know, people that don't know me - not personally anyway - but somehow they relate to my story, I guess, you know. They see something in me and my family that could be them, and I guess the thought: there but for the grace of God go I.

ROBBINS: Next month, because of his disability, at age 36 Randy becomes eligible for Medicare, which could pay for 80 percent of his heart transplant.

Being placed back on the active list for a donated heart through AHCCCS is still the best option. So Arizona's transplant centers are still struggling with the state. Nance Conney, who heads the transplant program at the University of Arizona, says they compiled a study showing how some tests and procedures could be eliminated to make transplants cheaper.

NANCE CONNEY: We picked each organ and said we can streamline this, we can make this better.

ROBBINS: The Arizona legislature may take another look at the issue when it convenes in January. Meanwhile, Randy Shepherd is home watching his three-year- old son Nathan while his wife, Tiffany, works.

SHEPHERD: Does he(ph) get a bonkers or what?

NATHAN: Mm-hmm.

SHEPHERD: Did you fall down?

NATHAN: Mm-hmm.

SHEPHERD: Oh, man, come here. Oh, you're tough.

ROBBINS: In a way, Randy Shepherd has gotten tougher. He's gone from a reluctant interview subject to a reluctant activist. He joined Democrats at a news conference calling attention to the cuts, even though he's a Republican. The activism, he says, came after he and his wife prayed.

SHEPHERD: And then this right here opens up. Well, to me that's a direct answer to my prayers. So if I'm not going to take this opportunity and raise awareness, get information out there, then, then, you know, why even bother praying about it?

ROBBINS: Randy Shepherd is fighting for his life. He's become convinced that speaking out will give him a better chance of saving it.

Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.

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