The gift of a new heart; Donation page set-up for Austin man in need of transplant

Published 9:14 am Wednesday, November 21, 2018

There are various reasons for people to be thankful this Thanksgiving, whether it is family, friends, jobs or anything else.

But for Austin resident Jeff McNiff, there is something else for which to be thankful: he is officially on the list to receive a heart transplant.

“I had a heart attack when I was 39-years-old in 1996,” he told the Herald. “At that point, I lost probably two-thirds of the function of my heart.”

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For several years, McNiff said he did fairly well, working for International Paper. He never let his condition keep him from doing anything; he only “had to do it slower.”

But his heart attack caused irreversible damage, and about three years ago he entered the transplant program at Mayo Clinic in Rochester.

“It was suggested for me to get a heart and that it would be 5-6 years to get a heart and that I should go to Mayo in Phoenix and talk to them about getting listed,” he said. “We got down there and the first person we saw was a cardiologist who put me right in the hospital. I was in 5-6 weeks, then in and out for two weeks straight.”

While he was there, McNiff had open-heart surgery. During the procedure, a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) was put in place to help mechanically assist his heart with pumping blood.

“I’ve been feeling pretty good since I got that in,” McNiff said.

McNiff is currently in Minnesota for three months of cardiac rehabilitation and will head to Phoenix on Dec. 11. Wait time for the new heart could be anywhere from a few months to a year.

With the need for the transplant comes medical costs, and because of his condition, Jeff is unable to work. His wife, Mary, used to run a daycare service at their home, but had to close it down because McNiff could not be exposed to germs after being placed on the transplant list.

Fortunately, McNiff was able to keep his insurance from International Paper, paying $1,500 out of pocket for the $960,000 LVAD procedure. The projected cost of a heart transplant is $1,242,200, and because he is not working, McNiff is responsible for paying the entire premium. The estimated premium cost is $5,000.

To help with paying the medical expenses, McNiff’s stepdaughter, Rachel Paulson, established a gofundme page with the goal of raising the $5,000. As of Tuesday morning, $1,586 had been raised.

McNiff said that his 9-year-old granddaughter, Jaely Solberg, helped raise money by donating all of her dolls, which they were able to sell for $700.

While the cost and uncertainty that comes with the procedure is difficult, McNiff said one of the hardest parts is being in Phoenix over Christmas.

“We always had Christmas at the house with the kids and grandkids,” he said.

McNiff also said his son-in-law is suffering from prostate cancer, making being away for Christmas even more difficult.

“I’ve been thinking more about that than myself at the moment,” he said. “But the holidays pull people together. We have to be thankful for what we have.”

Those who wish to donate can do so by visiting and search for “Jeff McNiff” or “Jeff’s Journey to a New Heart.” A direct link can be found at

“I tell my wife that I could live the rest of my life with (the LVAD), but it would be nice to get a heart and feel better than I have probably in the last 22 years,” McNiff said.