SAN DIEGO (Ivanhoe Newswire/WTVM) -- Mark Girard Junior's heart is truly the gift that keeps on giving. He was attacked and killed while sticking up for a friend in 2014. His heart was transplanted into a man who died a month later. What surgeons did then has only been done nine other times in the world.
Mark Girard says, "Everything in my son, Mark Junior's life was big, bigger than life always."
Junior signed his organ donor card after he survived a brain tumor as a teenager. When he died, his heart went to 72-year-old Roger Knott who was in failing health.
Roger's wife Carol Knott says, "After the heart transplant, the difference was amazing. He just felt great. He had energy."
Carol says Roger came home from the hospital after two weeks. He was looking forward to returning as a volunteer docent on the USS Midway. But 30 days after surgery, he had a stroke, unrelated to his new heart, and died.
Victor Pretorius, M.D., heart transplantation surgical director at UC San Diego Health, had another patient who needed the heart.
Dr. Pretorius says, "The heart has to survive basically, two patients going through brain death for us to be able to use it, as in this case, in a third patient."
The second transplant is high-risk. The heart must have enough tissue to be reattached. Rejection from two hosts and scar tissue are concerns.
Forty-five-year-old Jon Marsh was suffering from heart failure. He was scared, but he knew Junior's heart was strong.
Marsh says, "I felt a very strange sensation when I was in the ICU and I felt the heart beat for the first time. I could feel in here, but I could also feel it in my back. And it was so strong, it scared me."
Jon has lived more than a year with the heart. Mark Girard said despite his sorrow, he has hope, knowing junior's heart is still beating.
"In my case, praying for the organs to be accepted and bring happiness. Because Junior brought great happiness to me," explains Girard.
Dr. Pretorius expects heart re-transplantation to continue to be rare, since fewer than 5% of recipients die in the first year after surgery. But with 2,000 heart transplants every year in the U.S., and a long waiting list, re-transplantation is an option.