Wilson, 74, received a donor heart September 24 after spending nearly two months on the transplant list. As a powerful member of the Defense Appropriations Committee, Wilson helped funnel billions of dollars in U.S. aid to Afghan fighters during the Soviet-Afghan war, which ultimately led to the fall of the Soviet Union. His exploits were chronicled in the best-selling book Charlie Wilson's War, and in a movie this Christmas starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.
Wilson suffered from cardiomyopathy, a genetic disease that causes an enlarged and weakened heart. He was first diagnosed with heart failure in 1985, and has worked with physicians to treat the disease ever since. But after two decades, his heart deteriorated to the point where he needed a transplant.
"Heart failure is a devastating disease that affects hundreds of thousands of Americans," said Dr. Guillermo Torre, medical director of the heart transplant program at Methodist and Wilson's cardiologist. "We are always gratified when we can give a patient a second lease on life, as we did with Mr. Wilson last week. Mr. Wilson has fought this genetic heart disease for many years, so we look forward to seeing his continued recovery with his new heart."
Wilson was among more than 2,600 Americans awaiting heart transplants. Over 1,000 people have received heart transplants so far this year.
"It is truly miraculous that I am walking out of the hospital today, a new man with a changed life," Wilson said. "The reason that I can do this is because someone generously agreed to make his organs available by signing up to be part of an organ donation list. I owe my life to this person."
According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, today there are 97,000 people awaiting transplants in the United States, and the need for more donors continues to grow. In 2006, there were 28,930 organ transplants and 14,755 organ donors (deceased and living). Every 11 minutes, a name is added to the national transplant waiting list and an average of 18 people die each day while waiting for organs.