It was a meeting that evidenced a literal change of heart.
Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Sister Ruth Renlund visited Japan and Korea this May, spiritually changing hearts during member, missionary and leadership meetings throughout their 10-day trip.
However, a highlight of the visit was a sweet meeting honoring not a spiritual, but a physical change of heart.
During the 1990s Dr. Renlund and his team performed heart transplants on Japanese patients at the University of Utah, Primary Children’s Hospital and LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City. At that time, the operations were not done in Japan.
Elder Renlund met with four former heart transplant patients and family members at the Tokyo South Mission home on May 19.
The meeting was organized by Dr. Shinichi Nunoda, a cardiologist from the Tokyo Women’s Medical University, who referred the patients to Dr. Renlund and worked with him on the follow-up care when the patients returned to Japan.
Dr. Nunoda learned of Elder Renlund’s visit to Tokyo from Kenji Suzuki, who — along with the members of the Japanese Dai Ichi Ward — was a volunteer helper for the transplant patients and their families during their six-month convalescence in Salt Lake City. Elder Suzuki is serving a mission with his wife, Rebecca, in the Nagoya Japan Mission.
Dr. Nunoda was emotional at the chance to see the Renlunds for the first time in nine years. The first patient referred by Dr. Nunoda was 7-year-old Mio Kobayashi, who attended the reunion. Her surgery was in 1991. She and her mother showed their gratitude at seeing Elder Renlund through tears of joy.
Another patient, Kousuke Higuchi, talked about the fact that his life was saved as a young baby by Dr. Renlund. Other patients expressed their joy at seeing their doctor and talked about the quality of life they have enjoyed since their transplant.
In those years, heart transplant patients normally had a life expectancy of only five to ten years with the new heart. The patients treated by Dr. Renlund and Dr. Nunoda have exceeded that expectation in part, according to the doctors, because Japanese patients are so faithful in taking their anti-rejection medications and following other post-operative procedures prescribed by the doctors.
Elder Renlund expressed his own joy at seeing the patients alive and healthy.
“You are physically alive today because you had a ‘change of heart’ and have then done those things which will keep you physically healthy,” he said. “We learn from the Savior, Jesus Christ, that we also need to have a spiritual change of heart. Then we need to do those things to nourish and care for our spiritually changed hearts so that our soul may continue to be healthy and strong. If we do, we can live eternally with our Father in Heaven and our loved ones, in the same way you patients are enjoying life with your loved ones in mortality.”