Patient Care

Holidays Bring New Hope for Woman after Life-saving Heart Transplant

Dec. 21, 2012
Rose Bush talks with Leway Chen, M.D., M.P.H., about the new heart she received at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Cortland County resident Rose Bush had one thing on her holiday wish list – a new heart. Doctors at the University of Rochester Medical Center were able to grant the wish, performing a life-saving heart transplant Dec. 8.

“Just six months ago I didn’t think that I would make it to see Christmas,” said Bush, who is recovering at URMC’s Strong Memorial Hospital. “Now, I’m full of hope and I almost can’t believe it happened for me.”

Heart surgeon George L. Hicks, M.D., performed the five-hour surgery after a donor heart became available. URMC is the only comprehensive heart failure and transplant service in upstate New York.

“We are all pleased to see patients like Mrs. Bush do so well after the transplant and we look forward to sending her home to her family and normal routine,” said Leway Chen, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Program in Heart Failure and Transplantation.

Bush, 63, is a retired nurse who worked at Cortland Hospital and Highgate Manor Rehabilitation and lives in Cincinnatus. She was surprised by a diagnosis of congestive heart failure in 2002. She was preparing for a simple gynecologic procedure and was suffering leg pain. Her doctor urged her to go to the emergency room, which led to testing that shows not only the heart problem, but metastatic papillary thyroid cancer as well. 

“Our heads were really spinning back then,” said Cheryl Hughes, Bush’s daughter. “We just took each step with her along the way.”

Doctors wanted to stabilize the Cortland County woman’s heart function before tackling the cancer. Syracuse electrophysiologist Ali Al-Mudamgha, M.D., of SJH Cardiology Associates, recommended an implantable cardioverter defibrillator and managed her heart care for the past decade.

Oncologists at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center treated the thyroid cancer with surgery and radioactive iodine therapy.

The defibrillator and medications allowed her to keep a steady routine until earlier this spring, when she began to feel weak and “my quality of life was so poor,” Bush said. “I went from helping with the first cutting of hay to not being able to use the stairs and only sitting at the computer.”

She and her husband, Gene, are retired and have a 110-acre farm with a small number of livestock -- a handful of horses, cows and chickens. She enjoyed helping with the chores around the farm, but as her health failed, she couldn’t keep up with it.

Al-Mudamgha recommended specialized care at URMC and Chen discussed the possibility of a heart transplant. She was added to the list and hospitalized on Nov. 6. Bush was lucky to receive life-saving surgery just four weeks later. The average wait for a new heart is about five months, though some people are hospitalized for far longer.

The number of people who need organ transplants far exceeds the number donated each year. According to the Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network, the organ procurement organization affiliated with the University of Rochester Medical Center and SUNY Upstate Medical University, 521 people are on the waiting list at URMC for an organ transplant, including 43 people waiting for new hearts. 

Only 124 patients received organ transplants last year at URMC due to the lack of available donors. Sadly, 46 others died in 2011 while waiting for organs that did not become available in time.

Bush is grateful for the gift of life and the years she has ahead of her. “It’s bittersweet for me,” she said. “I know there’s a family who lost someone that was generous enough to give their heart to me. They are grieving even though someone else got to have a new start.”

Her family has now experienced both sides of organ donation. Years ago, her 10-year-old niece died and the family donated her organs to others in need. “It helped my brother and his wife come to closure with her death because they knew that her organs helped someone else,” said Bush, who has four grown children – Marc, Cheryl, Christina and Doug – and nine grandchildren.

“Heart transplantation is a precious gift of life given by one grieving family to help another critically ill person have the chance to live well again,” said Hicks, chief of cardiac surgery who performed Bush’s transplant surgery.

To register as an organ donor, go to

URMC is a leader in cardiac care, providing comprehensive management of all cardiac problems. The Program in Heart Failure and Transplantation holds the advanced certification in heart failure from the Joint Commission, the nation’s leading body for setting health care standards and accreditation.