EAST GRAND FORKS, Minn. — After nearly six months at the Mayo Clinic for a heart transplant, East Grand Forks Police Lt. Tony Hart said it was one of his goals to walk out of the hospital himself.

On Wednesday, May 26, he did just that.

"It's a huge step," police Chief Michael Hedlund said. "It's exciting news for us, of course, and obviously it's great news for Tony. This has been a several months-long process for him and his wife Katie, and it's got to just feel awesome."

"They still have a long road ahead of them," Hedlund added. "Lots more recovery to do, but it's certainly a huge step forward."

Law enforcement in the Rochester, Minn., area lined up to cheer Hart on he walked out of the Mayo Clinic Wednesday afternoon with his wife Katie Hart. Hart said he will be going to the Gift of Life Transplant House for a period of time before going home.

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East Grand Forks Lt. Rodney Hajicek described Hart as a "cop's cop."

"He loves talking to the guys," he said. "Just absolutely loves being in law enforcement and the camaraderie that comes with that."

Hart was diagnosed with heart disease 13 years ago, but lived his life normally until late last year. What started as a small cough in September soon became much more serious, and in December, Hart was airlifted to Rochester for treatment.

East Grand Forks Police Sgt. Tony Hart is greeted by Rochester law enforcement with his wife Katie Hart at his left and Mackenzie Morrissey, a registered nurse with Mayo Clinic, at his right as he leaves Mayo Clinic's Generose building in Rochester Wednesday, May 26, 2021, after having a heart transplant earlier this year. Sgt. Hart said he will be going to the Gift of Life Transplant House for a period of time before going home. (Joe Ahlquist / Post-Bulletin)
East Grand Forks Police Sgt. Tony Hart is greeted by Rochester law enforcement with his wife Katie Hart at his left and Mackenzie Morrissey, a registered nurse with Mayo Clinic, at his right as he leaves Mayo Clinic's Generose building in Rochester Wednesday, May 26, 2021, after having a heart transplant earlier this year. Sgt. Hart said he will be going to the Gift of Life Transplant House for a period of time before going home. (Joe Ahlquist / Post-Bulletin)

Hajicek recalled how frightening that time was for Hart and his loved ones.

"I mean, it was quite the experience, from having a pump outside your body keeping you alive, basically, to finding out he's getting a new heart," he said. "And the emotions that came with that, and the rehab after that — it's been quite the journey for him and his wife. She's been with him the whole time."

Hajicek spoke with Hart on the phone Tuesday; mostly, he said, Hart was frustrated with his numerous diet restrictions during treatment, but overall, the lieutenant is back to being himself.

Now, Hart will transition out of the hospital and into a transitional apartment in Rochester for about four weeks while he continues rehab and recovery.

After that, Hajicek said Hart intends to come home, but he hasn't given a timeframe yet as to when he intends to return to work.

"There was a time when it was pretty difficult," Hajicek said. "But the rehab is definitely working."