Heart to heart: Recipient gets extended family, too

Tyrone Cooper (right) with the father of Durrel Duplantis, his heart donor.

Just hours after Tyrone Cooper received his heart transplant, he was up watching cartoons on the television and called his stunned wife to tell her about how good he was feeling.

It was 2011 when Cooper’s heart flow hit 8 percent and he was placed on the transplant list after years of dealing with defibrillators and medications. By that morning, he was flush with 65 percent heart flow

“It was awesome,” he said.

This once active Luling man described himself as someone “always ready to do something and help somebody with something” and now he said, “I was just blessed … that’s all I can say.”

But Cooper couldn’t stop thinking about the heart donor who had given him the chance to see his children again and grandchildren on the way so he scoured the newspapers to find the recently deceased man because he wanted to thank his family.

They found him first.

That’s when he learned Derel Duplantis of Houma was his donor, and his family wanted to meet him, too. At age 45, Duplantis, who had a roofing business, died suddenly from an aneurism and became a donor to numerous people. Duplantis’ mother sent him a letter on Nov. 24, a day before his birthday, saying they wanted to meet Cooper.

Quickly, he realized they were becoming an extended family with uncanny similarities.

Both he and his donor had daughters expecting a baby. The babies were born each a month apart.

The Duplantis family invited all of his donor recipients to their home for Christmas. In the family photo, front and center the man standing alongside Papa Duplantis dressed as Santa, is Cooper. Alongside him are fellow recipients whose lives were bettered or saved by Derel’s donated heart, kidneys and even eyes.

During the party, Cooper’s phone rang and his family looked surprised. His ring tone was the theme from Sanford and Son, the same tone that Duplantis had on his phone.

“It was a perfect match,” said Cooper.

Tyrone Cooper (center with Santa) with Duplantis’ family and other recipients of his organs.

Size, blood type and tissue all matched.

“Everything matched up with the guy who I got the heart from,” he said. “That’s awesome. The surgery took 85 minutes to put the heart in and I almost broke the record, which was 83 minutes.”

Cooper’s positive attitude, as well as his determination to exercise, all made a difference in his recovery. He also singled out no smoking or alcohol.

Despite being athletic, the then 37-year-old was diagnosed with congestive heart failure in 1996 with barely 25 percent blood flow. Sixty-five percent is normal.

“I dropped about 35 pounds in 1-1/2 months and I started getting tired a lot at work,” he said.

“Everything matched up with the guy who I got the heart from. That’s awesome.” – Tyrone Cooper

Fellow workers became concerned about his exhaustion and advised he go to the infirmary where he was treated for stomach problems. Less than two months later, his wife told him they were going to the emergency room.

Eight hours later, Cooper was diagnosed with congestive heart failure with 10 percent heart flow.

“What I did was hit the treadmill and stayed at 25 percent,” he said.

Even with this low flow, Cooper did not qualify for a transplant because the oxygen level in his blood stayed at or above 14 percent. Defibrillators, exercise and medications carried him through 2011 and then he was out of alternatives. In 2003, he could not continue his work as a production technician trainer at Dow.

Cooper said his story is a unique one.

“It’s hard to explain,” he said. “The story is just so unique. I see them during holidays and my kids Facebook with them and the girls are close in both families. Every Christmas, we do a meet and greet, and we’re always talking during the week about the kids.”

Cooper is friends with Duplantis’ parents, too.

It’s an easy relationship for him, eager to share their experiences because he knows they lost a son and he strives to always remember that.

“I got the opportunity to see my grandkids and he didn’t,” Cooper said. “My gain was their loss.”

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