BWH Celebrates Heart Transplant Milestone
Until 22 years ago this month, a successful adult heart transplant in New England had never been performed. That changed on Feb. 2, 1984, when BWH surgeons successfully performed a heart transplant and followed that up with New England's second heart transplant eight days later.
"It was a big deal. There weren't many heart transplant teams in the country," said Lawrence Cohn, MD, senior cardiac surgeon, who participated in the first heart transplant.
The transplant was a significant medical achievement and an event that unified the newly formed Brigham and Women's Hospital, which opened its doors in 1980. "The first heart transplant helped bring divergent specialists together," Gilbert Mudge, MD, who started the BWH heart transplant program, said. "For the first time, people began to say the hospital was truly bigger than the sum of its parts."
Today, BWH is the first hospital in New England to reach 500 heart transplants, a milestone achieved in December with patient Richard Briggs, 67, of Cape Elizabeth, Maine. "This milestone speaks to our leading role in management of end-stage heart disease," James Fang, MD, medical director of the Cardiac Transplantation Program, said.
Briggs had a lengthy history of heart problems before being placed on the transplant list. He sought treatment at Maine Medical Center, which operates a heart failure/transplant clinic in collaboration with BWH. Here, Briggs met Michael Givertz, MD, co-director of BWH's Cardiomyopathy and Heart Failure Program, and Linda James, nurse practitioner in the Cardiovascular Division, who travel monthly to the center to care for BWH patients and others with advanced heart disease.
After living for one year with a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), Briggs was admitted to BWH with a chronic infection related to the LVAD and an indication that LVAD failure was imminent. He was placed on the waiting list for a heart on Nov. 16, and, less than 30 days later, underwent heart transplant surgery.
The VAD Briggs used is one example of an advance in device technology since BWH's first heart transplant that changed the way patients are cared for while waiting for a heart. "Many patients can receive a VAD implanted and return home to await transplant," Fang said. Some patients even return to working full time while waiting for surgery, and the devices keep patients healthier, leading to better outcomes after the surgery.
Such devices are especially important today as the number of people with end-stage heart failure is increasing and the nation faces an organ donation shortage. "It has taken us 20 years to perform 500 heart transplant operations because there are too few potential donors," Fang said.
Those involved in the 1984 transplant recall the excitement. Rosemarie Maddi, MD, then chief of Cardiac Anesthesia, said the patient demonstrated confidence in the transplant team. "I asked him if he was scared, and he said, 'No. I have faith in all of you,'" Maddi said.
Patients today can be just as confident in BWH transplant teams. "The outstanding record of heart transplants at BWH is reflective of the teamwork and talent of our nurses, doctors, technicians and researchers," Chip Bolman, MD, chief of Cardiac Surgery, said.