Utah Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund receives heart, kidney transplant

Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune Senate majority leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, answers a question about tax legislation during media availability at the State Captiol in Salt Lake City Friday March 3, 2017.

Utah Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, has received a heart and kidney transplant, and is doing well.

Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, delivered that news to the Senate on Wednesday as it met in a special session to consider recent nominations by Gov. Gary Herbert.

“He received a new heart Thursday about noon, and a new kidney that night,” Stevenson said.

“He’s up walking around,” Stevenson added. “I think he’s more active than when he was here last…. He’s doing remarkable. There’s still a lot of risk involved in this.”

Okerlund missed much of the last general session because of poor health, which led Senate Republicans to name Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, as Senate Majority Leader Pro Tem to temporarily cover Okerlund’s responsibilities.

In 2014, Okerlund collapsed in the Capitol with a heart attack near the end of the legislative session, and then-Sen. John Valentine performed CPR as he was rushed to a hospital.

“It’s really an answer to a prayer,” Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said about Okerlund’s transplants. “We do miss him.”

“We’re all just very pleased with what’s taking place. It’s been a real uplift I think to all of us,” Stevenson told senators. “He misses you. He said that through the anesthetic.”

Okerlund has served in the Senate since 2008, and next faces reelection in 2020.