Ferndale man receives first beating-heart transplant in Michigan

Michigan's first two beating-heart transplants took place at Henry Ford Health in Detroit recently.

On his 58th birthday, Ken Miller of Ferndale was given the news that he would be undergoing the first-ever beating-heart transplant in the state.

Now, he is in the process of recovering. 

"I didn't expect to be feeling this well," Miller said. "I'm feeling great and blessed."

Miller had been in heart failure for more than a decade. He spent 25 days in a hospital bed, on a machine, prior to receiving his new heart –and a kidney– on May 31.

"I'm really excited about this outcome and excited about how well this heart worked," said cardiac transplant surgeon at Henry Ford Health, Dr. Kyle Miletic.

Ken Miller of Ferndale underwent Michigan's first ever beating-heart transplant on May 31, 2024. (Provided by Henry Ford Health)

Heart transplantation has come a long way.

Generally, a donor heart is good for about four hours, which limits how far away a donor heart can come from. However, the "heart in a box" technology has been a breakthrough – which is a mini heart lung machine that keeps the heart beating.

But still, the heart has to be stopped, twice, before being transplanted.

"We are always very concerned every time we have to stop the heart. Now, it's inevitable. It's going to have to be stopped once at the donor hospital to put it on this box, but the problem is we have to stop it a second time," Miletic said.

That can be problematic. But with the beating heart transplant technique, the donor heart does not have to be stopped a second time; it keeps beating.

"We hooked the donor heart up to his own blood stream. Once it came from the box, his blood was providing that blood and the nutrients to his new heart, and we sewed it in again as it was beating," Miletic said.

Henry Ford surgeons performed a second beating-heart transplant just last week. That heart came from about 2,000 miles away.

"Despite being the furthest distance we've ever traveled – really woke up right away with no issues, and that patient is doing extremely well and has excellent cardiac function," the doctor said.

The new technique is not only revolutionary for heart transplant patients, but liver and lung patients as well.

As for Miller, he's ready to get back on his feet and back to his family.

"I look forward to just being able to move, walk, go upstairs," he said. "All the things we take for granted."