Ralph “Rusty” Lawrence looks out a window at Strong Memorial Hospital and thinks about running through autumn leaves with his young sons without having to catch his breath after a few short minutes. His failing heart has prevented him from rough-housing with the boys.
The 43-year-old Greece man is waiting for a heart transplant at the University of Rochester Medical Center.
Lawrence was born with a congenital heart condition, called tetralogy of Fallot. This rare condition consists of four heart defects and repairing them requires a complex operation. The surgery is usually done when a child is very young, and children commonly have to undergo more operations as their bodies grow.
Surgeons repaired the three holes Lawrence had in his heart long ago, and doctors have continued to monitor and treat his deteriorating heart muscles.
“When I was a baby, doctors told my mother that I wouldn’t live past the age of 3. Thankfully good doctors and advances in science and medicine and those doctors were wrong,” said Lawrence, who enjoys daily visits from his wife, Erika, and sons, Lukas, 8, and Logan, 2.
“Getting a new heart will help make me stronger and let me enjoy my children and my life to a greater degree.”
URMC’s Program in Heart Failure and Transplantation experts worked closely with his cardiologists James Manning, M.D., Peter Harris, M.D., and Chloe Gray Alexson, M.D., to manage his heart care.
“It’s really a great partnership between our community’s cardiologists and our program all working together for each patient,” said Leway Chen, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Program in Heart Failure and Transplantation.
The program is the only comprehensive heart failure and transplant service in upstate New York. It is a national leader in research efforts to further the treatment of heart failure and return patients who suffer from heart failure to healthy and productive lives. The team has performed more than 140 heart transplants in the past 10 years.
Lawrence, a 1986 graduate of Fairport High School, has worked for Frontier Corp., as a systems analyst and project manager for two decades. As his heart health worsened, he found it difficult to manage a full day’s work and doctors said it was time to consider transplantation. He joined the waiting list for a new organ Sept. 22 and Chen is confident that once an organ is available, Lawrence will do well.
“People with congenital heart disease make up a very small percentage of all heart transplants that are performed. But the patients tend to do well long-term because they are usually younger and have fewer other health problems to contend with at the time of transplant,” Chen said.
Heart disease has plagued his family and he considers himself lucky that a new heart is a possibility. A niece, Amanda, was born with transposition of the great vessels, a congenital heart defect in which the two major vessels that carry blood away from the heart -- the aorta and the pulmonary artery -- are switched. She was just 8 years old when she died a decade ago. Lawrence wears a bracelet that bears the letters ATOA, which stand for ‘Always Thinking of Amanda ‘
And his son, Lukas, was born with Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, a common defect caused by an abnormal electrical connection (or bypass tract) between the atria and ventricles of the heart. The bypass tract allows electricity in the heart to travel abnormally fast and results in a very rapid heart rate. The condition can be managed with medications or ablation techniques.
“I’m lucky to be able to be close to home for this kind of care,” Lawrence said. “I’d miss a lot – my family, my boys -- if I had to travel a long distance to find the experts I have right here.”