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Sharp Health News

New heart, new lease on life

Feb. 12, 2021

Jerry Kane holding his old heart (l) and at home after his heart transplant (r).

The outlook was grim when Jerry Kane, 63, arrived at the ER at Sharp Memorial Hospital in November 2020. He was having trouble breathing, talking and walking even a short distance.

“His condition was very serious and life-threatening,” says Dr. Paulo Guillinta, chief of cardiology for Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, who happened to be on duty at the hospital that day.

Jerry was experiencing rapidly progressive heart failure due to a rare condition known as amyloid heart disease — caused by abnormal protein deposits in the heart muscle, which lead to dysfunction and heart failure.

“Jerry did not have much time in his current condition,” says Dr. Guillinta. “Often, the evaluation for a heart transplant takes many weeks to complete.”

Jerry first met Dr. Guillinta when he was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (AFib) three years earlier. AFib is an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications. Dr. Guillinta helped Jerry manage his AFib for several years prior to his hospitalization.

“This was important as he immediately recognized that I was having great difficulty,” says Jerry. “The team proceeded to check me into a hospital room right away.”

Jerry would spend the next 32 days at Sharp Memorial, an experience that, he says, “changed my life forever.”

Almost immediately, Dr. Guillinta and Dr. Lisa Anne Gleason, a cardiologist with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, began working with the heart transplant team at Sharp Memorial Hospital, including Dr. Brian Jaski, a cardiologist and medical director of the advanced heart failure and clinical cardiology program, and Dr. Robert Adamson, cardiothoracic surgeon and medical director of the cardiac transplant program, to set the wheels in motion for a transplant.

“This highlights our commitment to our patients to offer comprehensive cardiovascular care, along with our strong relationship with the Sharp Memorial heart transplant program,” says Dr. Guillinta.

After moving up the transplant waitlist and being designated as a backup for a heart twice, Jerry received his new heart several weeks later.

“I woke up sometime on Nov. 22 and immediately had the endotracheal tube extracted from my throat,” recalls Jerry. “From that point on, I experienced a complete sense of calm and well-being that remained until I left the hospital. During that period, I never stopped smiling and felt virtually no pain from the surgery.”

Jerry even had an opportunity to see his “old” heart before leaving the hospital, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity offered to patients who have had heart transplant surgery.

“It was enlightening and horrifying at the same time,” he admits. “The day before I was to leave the hospital, I was told I should go see and hold my old heart, as this was something other patients had enjoyed.”

Accompanied by transplant coordinator and nurse practitioner Andi Boettcher, MS, NP, Jerry entered the lab to view his old heart, surrounded by scientists and lab technicians hard at work.

“As I stood there discussing my heart for about 10 minutes and then observing and holding my old heart and the normal heart, I was suddenly overcome with emotion,” Jerry says. “I stood there with tears streaming down my face and was unable to speak for several minutes. What I was experiencing was a total awareness that I had received a miracle in my life.”

Now, just a few months later, Jerry is progressing quite nicely. He is walking 2 to 3 miles every day, and the early returns are very encouraging.

“Jerry is doing remarkably well,” says Dr. Guillinta. “His strength has improved dramatically, and he has returned to enjoying a meaningful quality of life. He is not experiencing fatigue or shortness of breath, and he has exhibited more energy. He routinely has heart biopsies to assess for rejection and they have all been normal.”

A miracle, indeed.

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