Cardiac surgeons at the University of Rochester Medical Center Strong Memorial Hospital recently performed its 200th heart transplant surgery.
Transplant surgeons Juan Lehoux, surgical director of the Program in Heart Failure and Transplantation; and Sunil Prasad performed the six-hour procedure. Patient Stephen Waite Jr., of Oswego, is recovering at Strong Memorial Hospital.
Waite was 40 when he was diagnosed with non-ischemic cardiomyopathy.
“He went from having a normal life to suddenly struggling with heart failure,” said Waite’s cardiologist Michael Fischi, of St. Joseph’s Physicians Cardiovascular Specialists in Syracuse.
UR Medicine cardiologists collaborated with Fischi to manage Waite’s care for several years. When Waite didn’t recover as expected after mitral valve repair, Fischi referred him to Strong Memorial Hospital.
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 to stabilize his heart function. Transplant cardiologist Eugene Storozynsky monitored Waite’s health and managed difficulties with the LVAD for several years.
“It was late at night when doctors told me they had a good heart for me,” said Waite. “That night, I was excited knowing that I will get a second chance.”
The number of people needing organ transplants exceeds the number of organs donated each year. About 10,000 people in New York 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.
“I look at Stephen and know that he is well today because a stranger was kind enough to donate a heart,” said Waite’s wife, Christine. “What was the best day for us was a terrible day for that person’s family, and we will think of them always.”
About 450 people are on Strong Memorial Hospital heart, liver, kidney or pancreas transplant program waiting lists.
New York state has a shortage of organ donors in its registry. 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 longer for life-saving surgeries. Each day, 18 people in the U.S. die waiting for transplant surgery. In August, the state legislature approved lowering the age to join the registry from 18 to 16 beginning February 2017.
Strong Memorial is the only comprehensive heart failure and transplant center in upstate New York, serving the 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, director of the Program in Heart Failure and Transplantation. “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.”