Transplant Saves Bishop at the Heart of His Community

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heart transplant, bishop, William LaRue Dillard

“It’s the size of the heart that matters.”

Bishop William LaRue Dillard was speaking quite literally when he shared this detail of how he came to be an 81-year-old clergyman with a heart 43 years younger than the rest of him. He quoted his heart transplant surgeon as he sat in his office at the Second Baptist Church, surrounded by framed photos of his children and grandchildren, describing the traits necessary for a donor heart.

“The skill of the surgeon, the discoveries that make operating rooms, anesthesia, and heart transplants possible—these are gracious and miraculous gifts.”

On September 5, 2014, after months of waiting, William, then 78, and his wife, Betty Gay Dillard, got the call: “We have a heart for the bishop,” said Dr. Jon Kobashigawa, chair of Heart Transplantation Medicine at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute. The heart came from a 35-year-old father of four.

“The size of his heart fit right into mine,” William says. “It has been a monumental moment in my thinking, reflecting on his transition and my reception of that heart, which came just in time.”

The only cure

William had been plagued by fits of coughing, trembling, and shortness of breath for a while, but one morning he had a particularly frightening attack and decided he couldn’t ignore them any longer.

“I knew something was drastically wrong,” he says. “I went straight to my doctor. The nurses took one look at me and said they better get me in right away.”

Some heart transplant programs would have considered William too old to undergo a transplant at 78.

He was admitted to a local hospital, and a cardiologist referred him to the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, where William met Dr. Kobashigawa. Along with William’s previous diagnosis of an enlarged heart, Dr. Kobashigawa found he also had cardiac amyloidosis, a rare condition in which an abnormal protein builds up in the heart.

The only cure was a heart transplant.

Some heart transplant programs would have considered William too old to undergo a transplant at 78.

But researchers at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute have studied transplants in older patients and found that select patients age 70 and older can undergo transplantation with similar outcomes to younger recipients.


Read: 2 Heart Transplants Can’t Keep Joelle Down


“Today, you’d never know he’d had a heart transplant,” Dr. Kobashigawa says. “Every patient here gets a fair and objective evaluation, and we really weigh each case very carefully. We’re happy we could help him.”

What matters

The support of his congregation and the love of his family were instrumental factors in his recovery, William says. The bishop shared his worries with the congregation, and they prayed for him.

“The skill of the surgeon, the discoveries that make operating rooms, anesthesia, and heart transplants possible—these are gracious and miraculous gifts,” William says.


Read: Overcoming Donation Shortage in Organ Transplantation


William still leads the Second Baptist Church in Monrovia, where he’s served the parish since 1974. He and Betty—who he affectionately calls “Apple Blossom”—have 5 kids, a son-in-law, and 3 grandkids.

It’s the size of the heart that matters, and these days, Bishop William Dillard’s is overflowing with optimism and happiness.

Bishop, William LaRue Dillard, heart transplant
Bishop William LaRue Dillard at the pulpit of the Second Baptist Church in Los Angeles where he’s served the congregation since 1974.

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