Transplant recipient celebrates at Heart Walk

The first morning Murphey Coy woke up with his new heart, the 20-year-old sophomore at the University of Kentucky asked his parents to feel his hands and feet.

They were warm for the first time in two years, he said.

Forty-nine days after his heart transplant on March 7, Coy celebrated with his parents, surgeon and about 100 friends on a sun-splashed Saturday morning at UK's Commonwealth Stadium.

They were among about 2,500 who participated in the Central Kentucky Start! Heart Walk, which is sponsored by the American Heart Association and UK Healthcare.

The fund-raiser was expected to net about $200,000. The event featured Laura Casey Lake, the daughter of UK basketball star Mike Casey, who recently died of heart problems.

Coy and his exuberant supporters were decked out in Superman blue T-shirts that read "Team Bonnell" on the back in honor of Dr. Mark Bonnell, who led Coy's UK transplant unit and accompanied Coy in Saturday's walk. The shirts were designed and marketed for $10 each by twin brothers Colin and Matt Dempsey of Louisville, who are in UK's Phi Gamma Delta fraternity with Coy.

They sold 185 of the T-shirts, helping "Team Bonnell" raise more than $10,000 for the walk.

When team members gathered for a photo, a local band, The Rock Stars of Soul Featuring Dan Jackson, played Celebration. Some whooped and hollered. Others wiped away tears. Everyone had a lot of heart.

Coy, who wore a mask and plastic gloves to ward off possible infections, reveled in the walk.

"I'm doing fine," he said. "No rejection."

He said he was grateful to everyone who has helped him, especially the donor. He is writing a thank-you letter to the donor's family.

"I want to keep helping the heart association," he said. "I want to walk today for everyone who can't walk."

The entomology major — "bugs," he says — believes he's always had a positive spirit, but his last two years have been filled with doctor visits, hospital stays, trips to the emergency room and anxious moments.

Coy suffered from dilated cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure. When his heart began to fail, he needed a new heart.

A donor organ became available in just 24 hours, record time for a UK heart transplant recipient.

Bonnell, who has been at UK about 1½ years, said the university hospital performs about a dozen heart transplants a year. There are about 2,700 a year nationally, he said.

In Kentucky, 31 people die every day of cardiovascular disease, said Mike Turner, special events director for the American Heart Association in Lexington.

Coy's parents, Ed and Mary Fred Coy of Toledo, Ohio, called their son's new life "a miracle."

"The most sinking feeling throughout the whole ordeal," the father said, "was when word came to us from the operating room that our son's heart was out.

"No one can imagine to hear that about your son."

The father, a lawyer, said he told his son, "Life is good."

"That became his slogan," he said. "That's how he now signs every e-mail, every letter, 'Life is good.'"