Curious About The Longevity Of Heart Transplants

By David Wade, WBZ-TV

BURLINGTON (CBS) – One family’s loss can mean life for another person. Organ transplants are not only more common these days, they’re also more effective.

WBZ-TV’s David Wade reports

Rick from Burlington told us some great news about that when he Declared his Curiosity writing: “My Dad is coming up on celebrating the 17th year of his heart transplant.” Rick’s father is no longer the exception.

Rick’s Dad is Richie Abreu. “It’ll be 17 years, June 19th, which was my birthday, when I got my heart,” says Richie. He suffered a serious heart attack in 1992, and had a triple bypass. By 1994 he needed a heart transplant. “I was in real rough shape. I couldn’t get around. I was so weak,” he remembers. To look at him today, you wouldn’t know that he almost didn’t make it. “When you get a new heart you think twice about how lucky you’ve been, believe me,” he says.

“There is this large and growing population of patients who are many years out from their heart transplants,” says Dr. Michael Givertz, the Medical Director of the heart transplant program at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston. That hospital just performed its 600th heart transplant. Recipient Dennis Thompson now begins what can be the most crucial phase for a heart transplant recipient. “Once patients get out beyond a year or 2, if they’re doing well, generally they’ll do well for many, many, many years,” says Dr. Givertz.

The reason many transplant patients are living longer is a series of medical improvements. Everything from better care before surgery, more effective medications and a comprehensive, team approach to short and long term care. “Patients are living beyond 15 and 20 years, and doing extremely well,” says Givertz.

An advancement that has contributed to longer lives is a mechanical pump that is implanted in many people while they wait for a heart to become available. The pump does what its’ name implies, helps the blood flow out of the heart and into the aorta. That means patients are actually healthier and stronger when it’s time for surgery, which gives them a much better chance.

“There’s nothing like organ donors. Without them, I wouldn’t be here today,” says Richie Abreu. The hope is for more people to have outcomes like Richie’s. “So many beautiful things have happened in my life since this transplant… my beautiful grandchildren. The best times of my life have been the last 17 years. I’ve been the happiest too, because I realize how important the gift of life is,” says Abreu

Many people mark the date of their transplants as a “second” birthday. For Richie it’s the same day. And this year, June 19th is also Father’s Day, the same as it was 17 years ago when he received his new heart.

The person we believe survived the longest after a heart transplant was an Ohio man named Tony Huesman who lived for 31 years.

For information about organ donations, visit the website of the New England Organ Bank.

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