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.

More from David Wade
  • Irene Aguilar

    I will celebrate my 18th anniversary on August 24. I suffered a massive heart attack on November 19, 1992 and it was determined that a heart transplant was the only solution to save my life. My insurance did not provide for heart transplantation at the time. My cardiologist went to bat for me and petitioned the insurance company and my husband’s employer began transplant coverage and I was fortunate to undergo transplant evaluation. I was placed on the transplant list and on August 24, 1993, I received a donor heart. I am so thankful to the donor family and am so lucky to have been given bonus time. Donation does work and more recipients are enjoying longer lives with their new organ.

  • krtucci

    This comment comes from a gentleman named Arthur who sent it to me. I asked for his permission to post his touching thoughts:

    I saw your bit on the heart transplant patient the other night and felt a huge tug! I knew then that I had to write to you about a young lady that was the 53rd transplant patient at Brigham & Womens and was one of the longest surviving transplant patients. However, she didn’t quite make it to the gathering of patients and doctors involved in transplant surgery where she was scheduled to be one of the guests of honor and speak about her experiences. She left us on September 20, 2010, the same week that this gathering was scheduled. I remember this well because I was admitted to MGH the following week with a severe case of chicken pox, shingles, and pneumonia. I could not attend the services for this young lady because I was detained at the hospital for 4 weeks during which time I almost jjoined her twice, involuntarily. I then spent three weeks in rehab and even now am still struggling to regain strength and mobility. I dearly regret missing those services and severely miss her. She was my 48 year old daughter with a 23 year old heart. She was my wife’s best friend and confidant. Also she had been married for only 6 months when we started this journey and her man stood by her till the end. There is a whole lot more to this story but I shall leave it now to wipe the tears.

blog comments powered by Disqus
Taz Show
Download Weather App

Listen Live