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From left, Linda James, NP, Bob Hanselman, Michael Givertz, MD, and Michelle Young, NP, pose for a group photo last month at an event hosted by the Advanced Heart Disease Team.
When Ray Cote underwent a heart transplant in 2006, BWH became his home away from home.
"The nurses and other patients on the floor nicknamed me 'the mayor' because I had my nose in everything," said Cote. "When I got my heart and finally left the hospital, I sent my nurses and doctors an 'official' letter of resignation. I was done being the mayor."
Four years later, Cote and nearly 60 other cardiac transplant patients and their families joined the Advanced Heart Disease Team and representatives from the multidisciplinary transplant team on the third floor porch of the Shapiro Cardiovascular Center Sept. 23 for a celebration of their lives post-transplant.
"Everyone in this room has endured the challenges that come with transplant," said Linda James, NP, transplant nurse practitioner in the Cardiovascular Division. "The outcome is the beauty of a gift that someone anonymously gives. You are able to live your lives and share them with the ones you love."
BWH has performed more than 595 heart transplants since completing New England's first successful heart transplant in 1984.
BWH also performed New England's first implantation of a ventricular assist device, or VAD, a mechanical pump that is surgically implanted to help the heart pump blood through the body.
"Now, nearly two-thirds of our transplant patients receive a VAD as a bridge to transplant, enabling many of them to wait for transplant from their homes," said Michael M. Givertz, MD, medical director of the Heart Transplant and Circulatory Assist Program. "Although the transplant waiting time has doubled in our region, our outcomes here at BWH are tremendous. Everyone in this room is a testament to that."
For some patients and their family members in attendance, the event served as a support group. "You don't always get a chance to talk to people in similar situations when you're in the hospital," said Bob Hanselman, who received his new heart in December 2009.
Though the pre- and post-transplant experiences are not easy ones, many people remembered with fondness the moment they received a second chance at life.
Nearly two years after Jay Hardiman's transplant, he can recall with exacting detail the night he and his wife found out a donor heart was available.
"It was midnight, and Dr. (Daniel) DiBardino knocked on my door at the hospital," Hardiman said. "I thought he was coming to take my vital signs, and I tried to send him away. He said, 'I think this is something you'll want to hear.'"
Four hours later, Hardiman was prepped and ready for surgery. By 7 p.m., he was recovering in the Cardiac Surgery Intensive Care Unit, a new heart beating in his chest.
The reception was a reunion for many people in attendance. Frank Zielinski received his new heart in 2006. Like all patients waiting for a heart transplant, he was required to take daily walks down the halls of the hospital, pulling his VAD along with him.
"Most of us on the eighth floor, we'd pass each other when we were doing our laps around the Tower," said Zielinski. "We were all in the same boat, and we all got along together, hoping for the best."
The celebration was the first time Zielinski had seen many of the friends he made during his stay at the Brigham—Cote among them—and he said it was a welcome change to see them in such good health.
And as for Cote, while his unofficial tenure as mayor is over, he said one of his duties as a transplant recipient is ongoing. As a volunteer for the New England Organ Bank, Cote gives presentations to groups throughout the region, stressing the importance of organ donation.
"We, the receivers, have an obligation to talk about the benefits of organ donation as much as we can," Cote said. "We have a real opportunity to help others by asking all of our friends and loved ones, and even strangers, if they are registered as an organ donor. That's a request that should truly come from our hearts."
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