Tammy Lumpkins, 1965-2012

A letter from Michael Bowdish, MD

Oct. 13, 2012 memorial to Tammy Lumpkins

Oct. 13, 2012 

I still remember the phone call requesting Tammy’s transfer to USC – after being turned down at several other transplant centers. Like all the others before her, and after, we took her with little question.

My first conversation with Tammy was brief. I told her she needed an artificial heart if she wanted to live, as she was dying and was too sick for a transplant. She readily agreed saying she wanted to do whatever she needed to survive. I asked her what she had to live for – she said her son – he was graduating from college in December. I said, OK, that’s our initial goal. Tammy made her goal.

Dr. Michael Bowdish and Tammy LumpkinsTammy was a poster child for our program. The first person on the West Coast discharged home with an artificial heart. She and Dale were featured in the L.A. Times and on “The Doctors.” Our experience at “The Doctors” was special. She looked great – we all had to wear makeup – even Dale. It was a special moment to sit on a national stage with a wonderful lady whose life I, and more importantly, my team, saved. I remember Tammy wanted to sneak off the stage to go over to a taping of “Glee” – unfortunately with FRIEDA, sneaking was not in the equation!

Tammy touched my life, in a way few patients have. As a surgeon, I’m supposed to be tough, but I mourn her loss. I never told Tammy this, but she also touched the lives of not just people who knew her, but total strangers. The day after the taping, I received an award at my high school in Harvard, Ill. I told her story and showed her pictures. I also got a spontaneous email the day after our episode of “The Doctors” aired from North Carolina – from the first person I ever transplanted, Burl Domecq – “Hello, Remember me? Saw you on ‘The Doctors’ this morning, what a great surprise! Just a note from myself, Tammy and my family a big thank you for all you have done for us. I have a lot of respect for you and your dedication to your profession and your passionate personality.” Ironically, Burl’s wife is named Tammy.

We had high hopes of getting Tammy a new, more permanent heart. Unfortunately, someone had different plans. The infection Tammy developed was terrible. I called all the experts, they all said she should be dead – I said, but she isn’t, what do I do? Of course, eventually, she did die, in peace with Dale and her USC family at her side.

I’m reminded of some guiding principles of what I do as a heart surgeon – and a “VAD” surgeon – a subspecialty that by its nature creates long-term relationships with patients.

My team has been given a gift – to take care of the sickest of the sick. It’s not for everyone, the highs are high, and the lows are low. Our goal is to improve the quality and quantity of life of each patient we encounter – hopefully giving them extra years to do the things they enjoy without being incapacitated. In this regard, I guess Tammy was a success. I know she felt she was a success.

Before her death, Tammy was interviewed for a national award for which I was nominated by the dean of the school of medicine. Tammy told me if I didn’t win, no one deserved to. I did not receive the award, but her words touched my heart and mean more than the award could ever.

“I’m thankful to be alive. If it weren’t for Dr. Bowdish, I wouldn’t be. To be able to go home meant everything. I was able to be home on Christmas and attend my son’s college graduation. That was so special…. I’m so lucky to have been treated by one of the best doctors in America.”

Tammy, you were treated by one of the best teams in America – a team that will miss you very much. Taking care of you was an honor. You are very special, and we will never, EVER, forget you. That said, we will do what we know you would want us to do – continue our work. Continue pushing the envelop and thinking “outside the box” to care for those who others might turn away.

I’ll leave you with this thought. I’m sure today Tammy is looking down, happy, doing what she enjoys – maybe taking pictures, making little figures or jewelry. My only question, does she have FRIEDA? I think yes. I think FRIEDA let Tammy live more in the last year of her life, than all the other years of her life combined. We can all learn something from that.

May God bless Tammy and all of you.

Thank You,
Michael Bowdish, MD

University of Southern California University of Southern California