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OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma City Dodgers and INTEGRIS continue the 2017 “Home Run for Life” series Friday, May 12 at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark by recognizing Brandi Rutherford, who received a life-saving heart transplant at the age of 32.
Rutherford was in dire health in the spring of 2015 and on a waiting list for a heart transplant. Thanks to the generous spirit of a young Oklahoma Army National Guardsman named Teddy Keys, and the care she received at the INTEGRIS Nazih Zuhdi Transplant Institute at Baptist Medical Center, her life was saved.
Now two years later and emboldened with a new heart, Rutherford is healthy and back to work. She volunteers her time to speak about her journey and encourage others to continue the gift of organ donation that gave her a new lease on life.
“Home Run For Life” recognizes individuals in the Oklahoma City community who have overcome a significant medical event with the help of their families, physicians and health care professionals. To symbolize the end of their battle against adversity, honorees take a home run “lap” around the bases during an in-game ceremony.
“We are proud to continue the Home Run For Life Series this season and honor some remarkable individuals in our community who have battled exceptional challenges with their health,” OKC Dodgers President/General Manager Michael Byrnes said. “Their resolve and courage offer great inspiration for us all and we are pleased to join with INTEGRIS to recognize their triumphs.”
Rutherford’s health quickly deteriorated in December 2014 as she was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, meaning her heart’s pumping chamber was stretched and not able to contract normally to pump blood properly. Her heart was functioning at about 10 percent. She was eventually diagnosed with congestive heart failure at the end of 2014.
“I was being treated for that and eventually they told me I’d never recover and I’d need a heart transplant,” she said. “It was very shocking.”
She was admitted to the intensive care unit at INTEGRIS where she awaited a new heart in March 2015. Complications arose in late April 2015, leading to emergency surgery and having a stent inserted into her artery.
That same night, on April 27, 2015, Teddy Keys died tragically at the age of 21 in a motorcycle accident near Tulsa.
Keys was an organ donor and was able to donate his bones, tissues and other organs, in part, to his excellent physical health that the athlete and active outdoorsman maintained throughout his life.
The following morning, Rutherford learned of a perfect match for a heart. That night she underwent a five-hour transplant surgery, receiving her new heart April 29, 2015.
“I woke up in ICU and the heart was so strong that I remember my doctor saying, ‘Brandi, you got one beast of a heart,'” she recalled. “I remember the heart beat being so strong that I could feel it beat and then I could hear it in my ears all night long. It was a welcoming sound for sure.”
As she recovered from her surgery, Rutherford sought information about her donor. She had heard about Keys’ tragic accident near her hometown and started to match up their timelines. She turned to social media to try to connect the missing dots. She checked her heart rate one night before climbing into bed and it was at 77 beats per minute. Then she started looking at Facebook photos of Keys and his family.
“My heart started beating out of control,” she said. “My fingertips felt like they were on fire and tears were streaming down. I went to go take my heart rate and it had jumped to 114.”
She knew in that moment she had found her donor. It was as if Keys’ heart, now her heart, was reacting to the images of his family on the screen. That was all the confirmation she needed. Later she received a letter from Keys’ step-mother, who said that seven individuals were helped by Keys, including Rutherford. She learned about Keys, his love for the outdoors, his strong faith and all-around good nature, and that he grew up in the same county as her family, about 30 minutes away in the town of Oologah. Their families eventually met to have dinner and celebrate Keys. She remains in touch with his family via social media and they even have shared holidays together.
Now two years after receiving her new heart, Rutherford is healthy and back to work in Texarkana, Texas. She volunteers for LifeShare of Oklahoma, serving as a vibrant example of what is possible through organ donation.
“I think giving is the best thing,” Rutherford said. “So, to give the gift of life, what a way to go out. Of course, I encourage everybody to be an organ donor.”
Watch Brandi Rutherford complete her “Home Run for Life” following the third inning of Friday night’s 7:05 p.m. game against the Fresno Grizzlies. Fireworks are scheduled to follow the game, presented by True Sky Credit Union. Interview requests for Rutherford, as well as INTEGRIS or Dodgers personnel can be made through the Dodgers communications department.
The Dodgers open an eight-game homestand at 7:05 p.m. Thursday at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark. The game against Fresno falls on a $2 Thursday, featuring $2 soda (21 ounces), bottled water (20 ounces) and beer (16 ounces) from a line of Pepsi and Budweiser products.
Fans can enjoy Saturday’s 7:05 p.m. game against Fresno with a Braum’s Friends and Family 4 Pack. This special ticket package includes four tickets, as well as four Braum’s combo meal vouchers and four OKC Dodgers hats for as low as $39.99 per package. The first 2,000 fans through the gates Saturday will receive a free hat.
Sunday afternoon’s 2:05 p.m. game against Fresno is a Chaparral Energy Family Sunday filled with family-oriented activities everyone can enjoy. The OKC Dodgers wrap up their homestand at 7:05 p.m. Thursday, May 18 against the Sacramento River Cats on a $2 Thursday.
For tickets or additional information, please call (405) 218-1000, go online to okcdodgers.com or visit the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark ticket office located on South Mickey Mantle Drive. Season ticket packages and group outings are also still available for the OKC Dodgers’ 2017 season. Call (405) 218-1000 to speak to a ticket representative.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.