Lutheran Hospital’s Heart Transplant Center will celebrate 30 years this month. Back in 1985, doctors at Lutheran started the program out of a need to do more to help their patients.
“We would watch [patients] deteriorate and that got to us as surgeons because we knew there was something out there that could help those folks and we couldn’t do it at that time,” stated Dr. Alan Peterson, Lutheran transplant surgeon.
Lutheran doctors traveled to Stanford University to study with the heart transplant program there. Stanford was the leader in heart transplants in the world at the time.
The first heart transplant at Lutheran Hospital took place July 20, 1985. Janice Miller, 42, was the inaugural, history-making patient.
“It was terribly exciting. We all anticipated it would go well and it did,” said Dr. Mark Jones, program cardiology director and transplant cardiologist.
Two weeks later, Bill Cretsinger became the second transplant patient at Lutheran. Since the program’s inception, 300 people have now had heart transplants.
When patients come in needing a heart transplant, they usually have approximately one year to live without medical intervention.
“We see people in the heart transplant program come to our door basically dying of their heart disease and we have the opportunity to give them hope,” said Kari Troxel, a Lutheran transplant social worker.
Doctors say the surgery hasn’t changed much in the past three decades, but pre and post op care, as well as immunosuppression medications which prevent rejection of the new heart, have improved.
In 1985, the one year survival rate was about 70 percent and five years was about 50 percent. Now, the one year survival rate is up to approximately 90 percent, with 70 percent of patients making it past five years and 50 percent making it more than 10 years. Some patients now live for more than 20 years with a transplanted heart.
“They get to do things they didn’t think they’d ever get to do because some generous donor was willing to give up his heart or the family was willing to give up his or her heart so they could enjoy a longer existence,” said Dr. Ron Scheeringa, retired transplant internist.
As of 2012, Lutheran held the record for oldest heart donor and was in the top five centers in the country for oldest heart transplant recipient and longest surviving recipient. The hospital’s team also broke ground by doing transplants on people that had been rejected by other centers.
“We started doing transplants on patients with diabetes. No other programs would accept those patients,” said Dr. Joe Ladowski, program surgical director and heart transplant surgeon. “We tried it. It worked. We published what we learned and now it’s common.”
They’ve also pushed the limit on how old a donor could be and performed transplants on patients who have survived cancer, giving more and more people a second chance at life.
“People get to see their children be born, their children graduate from high school, their children get married. People get to spend time with their spouses,” said Troxel. “Transplantation is a gift.”