By Kathy Walsh

FOUNTAIN, Colo. (CBS4) – Sunday will be 50 years since the first human heart transplant.

Since then, many advances have been made and many thousands of lives have been saved, including one patient from Fountain who calls every day a blessing.

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(credit: Beth Pritts)

“Eight years later, I’m still waking up,” said Beth Pritts.

Pritts is grateful every day. Back in 2009, it was touch and go. That June, there were complications during heart valve replacement surgery. At 39 years old, Pritts had what is called stone heart syndrome.

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(credit: Beth Pritts)

“My heart, just like it sounds, hardened like a stone,” Pritts explained.

At the University of Colorado Hospital (UCH), ventricular assist devices were implanted to keep Pritts alive.

heart transplant 6pkg transfer frame 1163 50 Years After First Heart Transplant, Patient Grateful For Advances

(credit: CBS)

“My heart in a box is what I would call it,” she said.

Five months later, on Nov. 15, 2009, Pritts had a heart transplant.

“It’s a big deal and we’re very, very grateful every day,” she said.

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(credit: Beth Pritts)

Pritts is among 560 heart patients transplanted at UCH.

“It’s an amazing treatment and it’s a lifesaving treatment,” said Dr. Amrut Ambardekar, Medical Director of the Heart Transplant Program at UCH.

And Ambardekar said it’s a numbers game.

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Dr. Amrut Ambardekar talks with Beth Pritts. (credit: CBS)

“There’s just not enough transplants for all the people that could potentially need them,” he said.

Since the first human heart transplant in 1967, there have been major advances in anti-rejection drugs, patients are living longer and important research is underway.

“Trying to figure out what we can do to treat heart failure so people don’t need a heart transplant,” said Ambardekar.

“There’s always room for improvement,” said Pritts.

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CBS4’s Kathy Walsh interviews Beth Pritts. (credit: CBS)

But she is living proof of how far we’ve come.

Coincidentally, Pritts was born the same day as the first heart transplant, just two years later.

Pritts volunteers as a patient ambassador with The Chris Klug Foundation, visiting patients at the UCHealth Transplant Center.

Chris Klug is a professional snowboard racer who got his liver transplant at the University of Colorado Hospital. He went on to win a bronze medal in the Olympics.

The Foundation’s Ambassador Program is a way to recognize patients who fully embrace their post-transplant lives and to highlight the possibilities post-transplant life can bring.

Kathy Walsh is CBS4’s Weekend Anchor and Health Specialist. She has been with CBS4 for more than 30 years. She is always open to story ideas. Follow Kathy on Twitter @WalshCBS4.

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