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Hospital Milestone Marks a New England First
Richard Briggs began the new year with a new heart—one full of hope for the future now stretching before him. “It’s probably the best gift I could get,” said the 67-year-old Maine resident and grandfather of three, who, until a month ago, believed he possibly had only one year to live.
After years of heart troubles, Briggs underwent a heart transplant at BWH on Dec. 27. His surgery marks BWH’s 500th heart transplant—the most for any New England hospital. This historic operation adds BWH to an exclusive list of only 20 other hospitals nationwide to reach this mark, according to data from the United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS).
“This is a testament to the tremendous team approach to the care of these patients,” said Michael Givertz, MD, co-director of BWH’s Cardiomyopathy and Heart Failure Program and Briggs’ cardiologist. “Our program has successfully offered transplants and lifesaving therapy to patients for more than 20 years. We take great pride in the successful outcomes of our patients, which allow them to regain quality and quantity of life.”
Briggs, a retired mechanical engineer and native of Abington, Mass., is thankful to be one of those patients. “It’s wonderful to be able to look forward to the next 10 years and incredible to think I’m one of 500 people to receive that gift at BWH,” he said, shaking his head in amazement last week as he prepared to go home to Cape Elizabeth , Maine .
A Long Journey
Briggs endured a long journey to receive a heart. In 1998, he underwent quadruple bypass surgery for ischemic heart disease. Several years later, he received an implantable cardiac defibrillator after developing heart failure. In October 2004, Briggs sought treatment for his heart at Maine Medical Center , which runs a heart failure/transplant clinic in collaboration with BWH. Here, Briggs met Givertz and Linda James, a nurse practitioner in BWH’s Cardiovascular Division, who travel monthly to the center to care for BWH patients and others with advanced heart disease in Maine .
A diagnosis of prostate cancer made Briggs ineligible to receive a heart transplant at the time, said Givertz. Instead, he was implanted with a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) to treat his failing heart while undergoing radiation treatment for his cancer.
In November 2005, Briggs was admitted to BWH with a chronic infection related to his LVAD and an indication that LVAD failure was imminent. Because the risk of his cancer recurring was very low, Givertz, who managed Briggs’ care very closely, and a multidisciplinary team determined Briggs was eligible for a heart transplant.
Confidence in BWH
BWH works closely with the New England Organ Bank to ensure transplant success, said James, who has worked as a nurse in Cardiology for more than 10 years. “Our success with transplantation relies heavily on the ability to get organs,” she said. “That’s what makes this all possible.”
Briggs was admitted on Nov. 16 and placed on the waiting list for a heart. He was glad to be at BWH, where he trusted his extensive care team, which included physicians, surgeons, nurse practitioners, nurses, anesthetists, residents, technicians, pharmacists and patient care assistants. The skilled and capable staff at BWH over the years have established the hospital’s rich transplant history, which includes the first heart transplant in New England in 1984, and the first human organ transplant—a kidney from one twin to another—in 1954.
“I’m very pleased with the care I got here, and that’s from the heart. No pun intended,” quipped Briggs, who maintained his sense of humor throughout his stay.
A Belated Christmas Present
Less than 30 days after his admission, Briggs’ care team had good news: a heart was available and it was a match. At 2 a.m. on Dec. 27, his surgical team brought him to the operating room, where he received a new heart in a surgery lasting more than eight hours. On Dec. 29, surgeons removed Briggs’ LVAD.
Briggs remained on Tower 8 for 10 days, until being discharged on Jan. 6 to return home to his wife, Marina, and their dog, Baxter. His post-transplant care calls for frequent returns to BWH for several months, but he is unfazed by the 2.5-hour trips.
“I feel good,” he said. “I feel very strong.”
Today, Briggs is planning his future. For starters, he hopes to take his canoe out on the water this summer. When asked about other activities, he responded simply, “I’m going to start living.”
Watch for additional stories on the 500th heart transplant in Bulletin.