Cardiac surgeons at UR Medicine’s Strong Memorial Hospital recently performed a 200th heart transplant surgery, providing a 48-year-old father a second chance on life.
Transplant surgeons Juan Lehoux, M.D., surgical director of the Program in Heart Failure and Transplantation, and Sunil Prasad, M.D., performed the six-hour life-saving procedure Aug. 24 and Stephen Waite Jr. of Oswego is recovering at Strong Memorial Hospital.
Reaching this milestone is a proud moment for the heart failure and transplant team, an integral part of UR Medicine Heart & Vascular, which has more than 900 people dedicated to patient care and heart research.
“Every transplant provides a new beginning for our patients and is an incredible achievement for the entire team of doctors, nurses and support staff,” said Prasad, chief of Cardiac Surgery.
This milestone was 15 years in the making, as the team performed its first transplant Feb. 7, 2001. Strong Memorial is the only comprehensive heart failure and transplant center in upstate New York, serving the vast majority of the state: from Northern New York to the Pennsylvania state line.
“We work closely with patients and their families every day, and when a moment like this occurs, it reminds us how many lives we’ve helped change,” said Leway Chen, M.D., M.P.H. He has been director of the Program in Heart Failure and Transplantation since its inception. “When our transplant recipients share news of family weddings and share photos of grandchildren or trips to wonderful places, it brings a sense of pride and joy to have helped make it possible.”
For better or for worse
“I feel like a new man today,” said Waite. He and his wife, Christine, are “so grateful, because it’s been a long and tough road getting here.”
It’s especially poignant because they will celebrate their 25th anniversary on Sept. 21, having endured sickness and health.
Waite was 40 when he was diagnosed with non-ischemic cardiomyopathy and he “went from having a normal life to suddenly struggling with heart failure,” said his cardiologist Michael Fischi, M.D. F.A.C.C. F.S.C.A.I., of St. Joseph’s Physicians Cardiovascular Specialists in Syracuse.
UR Medicine cardiologists collaborated with Fischi to manage Waite’s care for several years. When the Oswego man didn’t recover as well as expected after mitral valve repair, Fischi referred him “to Strong Memorial Hospital, because I’m familiar with the physicians there. It’s an excellent program. When I send patients there, I know they’ll get great care.”
UR Medicine’s Cardiac Critical Care Transport Team – a specialized team operating in a dedicated ambulance – brought Waite to Rochester and cardiac surgeons implanted a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) to stabilize his heart function. For several years, transplant cardiologist Eugene Storozynsky, M.D., Ph.D., closely monitored his health and managed difficulties with the LVAD.
Nearly a month ago, Waite was briefly hospitalized at Strong Memorial, never realizing that his stay would be extended because the matching donor heart finally became available.
“It was late at night when doctors told me they had a good heart for me,” said the father of two young men. “It was exciting to know I will get a second chance.”
Today, he is eager to return to his Oswego home to “sleep in my own bed and get back to normal.”
His recovery and strides toward good health are satisfying for the entire heart transplant team. “We are always pleased to see patients like Mr. Waite do well after transplantation,” said Lehoux, transplant surgeon. “We are optimistic for Mr. Waite and expect to see continued progress.”
Pass Life On
Christine Waite, a nurse, is grateful to the heart donor whose generosity helped save her husband’s life.
“I look at Stephen and know that he is well today because a stranger was kind enough to donate a heart,” she said. “What was the best day for us was a terrible day for that person’s family and we will think of them always.”
Organ transplantation surgery is not possible without the generosity of donors. The number of people who need organ transplants far exceeds the number of organs donated each year. There are nearly 10,000 people in New York who need an organ transplant, according to the Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network, the organ procurement organization affiliated with the University of Rochester Medical Center, in partnership with other Upstate New York hospitals. About 450 people are on Strong Memorial Hospital heart, liver, kidney or pancreas transplant program waiting lists.
New York state has a severe shortage of organ donors in its registry. Only about 27 percent of eligible people have registered to be an organ donor, which is less than half of the national average of 52 percent. In the Finger Lakes region, 34 percent of eligible adults are in the registry.
Low participation in organ donation means patients have to wait far longer for life-saving surgeries. Each day, 18 people in the United States die waiting for transplant surgery. In August, the state legislature approved lowering the age to join the registry from 18 to 16 starting in February.
There are 28 patients on the Strong Memorial heart transplant waiting list. They could wait as little as a few months to more than a year for a match.
UR Medicine teams partner with Harbor House for housing of family members of patients undergoing organ transplantation or critical care. The nearby home-away-from-home offers additional comfort and support for family members like Christine Waite, who stayed there while her husband recovered.
“It was a godsend to be so close to the hospital and have a wonderful place to stay when I needed to rest,” his wife said.
The Program in Heart Failure and Transplantation provides comprehensive care, using pharmacologic and high-tech devices to manage heart failure in addition to transplant surgery.
UR Medicine is a national leader in the use of ventricular assist devices (VAD) as a therapy for heart failure. VADs are implantable pumps that supplement or replace a patient’s heart function to keep them alive and as healthy as possible while they wait for a new heart. They also are used as long-term therapy for patients who are not eligible for transplant.
In 2012, UR Medicine cardiologists introduced the total artificial heart, a bridge-to-transplant device for patients with end-stage biventricular heart failure, a condition in which both sides of the heart become weakened and cannot pump blood adequately throughout the body.
The Heart & Vascular program also offers a Cardiac Critical Care Transport Team composed of cardiac critical care nurses, respiratory therapists, perfusionists and physicians. The team uses a vehicle equipped with leading-edge technology to assist patients being rushed from outlying areas to the Medical Center for expert care.