Rancher celebrates 25 years of life following heart transplant

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GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (KSNB) - Tom McNeil is getting ready to celebrate his 84th birthday, over two decades after he was beginning to give up on getting a new heart.

Tom McNeil watches his cattle eating food he hauled out for them. (Credit: Alicia Naspretto, KSNB)

"I waited a little over a year," McNeil told Local4 News. "I thought it's probably not going to happen because my health was getting worse as I went along. I kind of thought I'm probably not going to get one and I better start making other plans in life."

Everything changed on November 1st 1994 when he got a call in the middle of the night saying they had a heart ready for him. Now 25 years after that surgery, he says it has not slowed him down at all. He still works everyday on his over 6,000 acre ranch.

"I've been lucky. I've been able to do what I want to do," McNeil said. "I've been really fortunate since I've had this transplant."

Doctors told him it would add about ten years to his life, but on Friday he celebrated over doubling what was expected.

"I think it's just spectacular," Dr. Brain Lowes, a Cardiologist with Nebraska Medicine said. "Every year when I see him, I just smile. He's in his 80s now and continues to work. He's had an incredibly great outcome with this."

Now McNeil to help others get a chance at life also. He's spent the last 25 years raising awareness on the importance of organ donation.

"I wouldn't be here if someone hadn't donated an organ to me," McNeil said. "It's just a waste to take them with you."

"The average donor can save approximately 8 lives or donate 8 organs," Dr. Lowes said. "We do about 3,000 organ transplants a year in this country, to meet the needs of our population we probably need to be doing twice that."