Heart transplant coordinator is a hero to many



Debbie Murphy 2024 IBJ Healthcare Hero

Debbie Murphy is recognized as a 2024 IBJ Healthcare Hero, but the real winners are the patients and families she supports.

By Maureen Gilmer, Riley Children’s Health senior writer, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

Riley Children’s Health is filled with heroes, and we recognize one of those who leads with her heart every day. Debbie Murphy, whose history with Riley goes back nearly 50 years, has been named a 2024 Healthcare Hero by the Indianapolis Business Journal.

Debbie Murphy 2024 IBJ Healthcare Hero

Murphy, a pediatric cardiac transplant coordinator for the past 24 years, said she feels “blessed and privileged” to have been a part of more than 100 heart transplants in that time.

“I am truly honored to receive this prestigious award,” she said. “I love this work that our team and I do. Being a part of infants, children, teens and young adults receiving a second chance in life is very rewarding work.”

Debbie Murphy 2024 IBJ Healthcare Hero

Physicians, non-physicians, volunteers and organizations that are making important contributions to improved healthcare in central Indiana were recognized at an awards ceremony last week.

For Murphy, who says she remembers each patient she has cared for over her transplant career, it’s all about the patients and the team.

“Our team supports our patients and each other. We each have a role, and we couldn’t do it without the team effort.”

As transplant coordinators, she and her colleagues are along for the journey from the time a patient is evaluated for a heart transplant until the day the transplant occurs and often long afterward.

As such, they become part of their patients’ stories, following them post-transplant often for years, watching them graduate from high school or college, get married, even have children of their own. And more recently, it’s not just children who are receiving new hearts at Riley; adults with congenital heart defects are as well.

“It’s incredibly rewarding to see infants that we (transplanted) the first couple years I was here who are now graduating high school and going to college,” she said in an earlier interview. “It’s fun to be a part of that.”

She recalls being asked to come over to the Riley Outpatient Center a few years ago to visit with a former patient who had received not one, but two heart transplants. He wanted her to meet his newborn daughter.

Another two-time heart transplant recipient calls Murphy his “real-life superhero” for her compassion, dedication and support over the years.

Kobe Brannan recalled how Murphy joined his transplant team back in 2000, just two years after his first transplant, and has remained by his side up to and beyond his second transplant in 2014.

“I’ll never forget when nurse Debbie came into my hospital room in the middle of the night to tell us the lifesaving news. A matching donor heart was available for me,” he said. “I was terrified, but (she) was with me every step of the way.”

Murphy and cardiologist Dr. Robert Darragh were even there for Brannan’s wedding day two years ago.

Debbie Murphy 2024 IBJ Healthcare Hero

Dr. Darragh has worked with Murphy during her entire time as a transplant coordinator and says he could not have done his job as a transplant cardiologist without her partnership in caring for patients.

“Debbie’s dedication and tireless efforts have undoubtedly been instrumental in the success of our Heart Center at Riley.”

Ava Graham spent 579 days at Riley waiting for a heart transplant. Her mother, Jami, said Murphy was there though the good and bad days advocating for Ava, who received her hero heart last fall and went home in November.

For Ava’s parents, who put their lives on hold while waiting for that miracle, Murphy’s support has been incalculable.

“She’s our lifeline.”

The pediatric and heart surgery program at Riley Children’s Health is ranked among the best in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.

See other IU Health and Riley Children's Health healthcare heroes.

Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, mdickbernd@iuhealth.org

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Riley transplant coordinators lead with their hearts - Debra Murphy and Maegan Boehm are on the front lines with heart transplant patients, helping them live their best lives with the gift of a new heart.