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February 2006 Issue

David Melvin, MD
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UC and UH Mark 20 Years of Heart Transplants

By Amanda Harper
Published February 2006

Paul Smith, 71, says he'll never forget hearing the words that literally changed his life: "Mr. Smith, you've got a heart."

He received the news just 11 hours after arriving at University Hospital (UH) on June 4, 2005. Smith's failing heart had become so enlarged that it crowded his lungs inside his chest cavity.

Smith had already suffered six previous heart attacks--which resulted in the installation of a pacemaker in 1997 and a defibrillator in 2001. Doctors told him he needed a new heart immediately, and an appropriate match is often hard to come by.

But thanks to the heart failure and transplant team at UH and a young man he'd never met, Smith got a second chance at life.

"All I know about my heart donor is that he was a young man who loved sports and had fond memories of his high school senior prom," says Paul. "He's the reason I'm alive today, and no words could ever adequately express my gratitude."

Smith is one of 349 patients who've undergone heart transplants at UH since the program's inception in 1985.

Staffed by UC cardiologists and surgeons, the program has produced many happy "re-beginnings," including a patient who was able to complete a marathon six years after his transplant--a 16-year-old who was the youngest patient in this program to receive a donor heart--and the region's first female patient, Mary Ann Deck, who received her new heart more than 19 years ago.

"Had I not received the heart transplant by UC surgeon David Melvin, and the excellent care over the years from UC cardiologist Lynne Wagoner, I would have never met my lovely grandchildren," says Deck.

"I am so lucky to have been given these additional 20 years," she adds. "I'm so grateful for the organ donors and their families. They are the real heroes of the story, so please mention that April is also National Donor Awareness Month!"

A great deal has changed in the heart transplantation field since the initial transplant.

"When we first started the heart transplant program, we had limited personnel and big ideas," says Dr. Melvin, MD, the UC cardiothoracic surgeon who performed the first adult heart transplant at UH on Dec. 17, 1985.

Medical advances--including the use of immunosuppressive drugs, pacemakers and left-ventricular assist devices--have improved treatment options for heart failure and transplant patients.

"Looking back on the 20-year development of this program," continues Dr. Melvin, "I can honestly say that it has been one of the most gratifying experiences of my life."

Dr. Melvin's 1985 transplant surgery launched UH's adult heart transplant program--the first and only program of its kind in the Tristate area.

The hospital and UC's College of Medicine recently celebrated the program's 20th anniversary by reuniting about 30 heart transplant patients for a brief history of the program and to share personal stories.

"The past 20 years have brought about medical advances that improved the quality of our patients' lives and allowed University Hospital to evolve into an indisputable leader in heart transplantation," says Dr. Wagoner, MD, associate professor of cardiology and medical director of the UH's heart failure program, addressing the guests.

The physicians and surgeons who make up the heart transplant team, however, agree that ultimate credit should go to the heart donors and transplant recipients.

recipients. "Our patients are to be commended for their strength and courage," says Walter Merrill, MD, professor of surgery and chief of the section of cardiothoracic surgery at UC. "It's a big ordeal--both emotionally and physically--to have your heart removed and replaced, even with good results.

"And it's through the generosity of donor families who choose to donate a loved one's organs during a very difficult time," he continues, "that we're able to provide this life-saving operation to patients who desperately need it." 

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