Eva Baisey, first heart transplant recipient in DC area, dies from COVID-19

Author: Michael Roppolo / CBS
Eva Baisey during a CBS interview. Credit: CBS

Eva Baisey, known as one of the longest living heart transplant recipients in medical history, has died from COVID-19 at age 55. She passed away on September 12, 2021 — more than 34 years after receiving a heart from an unlikely donor.

“48 Hours” and Jim Axelrod covered the case in an episode called “Broken Hearts.”

Doctors thought Baisey, a former nurse, might have a life expectancy of just one to five more years, but she surpassed all expectations, living another three and a half decades with the donated heart.

A smiling Eva Baisey as she prepared to leave the hospital nearly two months after her heart transplant. Credit: INOVA

In 1986, then 20 years old, the single mother of two was diagnosed with idiopathic cardiomyopathy.

“The ‘idiopathic’ means we have no idea what caused the heart failure,” Dr. Ed Lefrak explained to CBS News’ Jim Axelrod in 2019.

Baisey would become the Washington, D.C. area’s first heart transplant patient — and Dr. Lefrak, the first surgeon there to perform it. At the time, heart transplants were so uncommon that he and his team would spend their lunch breaks in the morgue to practice the surgery.

Then, on December 28, 1986, they finally had a donor.

“I think they called me and told me it was a donor with a gunshot wound to the head,” Lefrak said.

Mary Willey and Karen Ermert in the Oakton High School and Falls Church High School yearbooks.

It would be years before they would find out the full story behind the heart. The donor had been Mark Wiley, a young man who had killed his estranged girlfriend, 19-year-old Karen Ermert. When police arrived at the scene, Willey shot himself in the head.

But his heart was still beating and Eva Baisey would be the recipient.

“It’s just — it’s a heart. It’s an organ. It’s not a murder organ,” Baisey told “48 Hours” in 2019. “And it’s just an organ that happened to save my life.”

Not only was a new life born out of tragedy — lifelong friendships emerged. Eva Baisey became close with Dr. Lefrak and the medical team that helped saved her life.

Eva Baisey and Dr. Ed Lefrak. Credit: INOVA

“So, this isn’t just your doctor,” Jim Axelrod asked in 2019.

“No, he’s my friend,” she responded. “I still call him Dr. Lefrak, but he’s my friend now. Yeah, I love him. I love him dearly.”

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