Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Michigan Heart program brings together doctors and patients to celebrate new leases on life

By Garret Ellison | The Grand Rapids Press

GRAND RAPIDS –Harry Konynenbelt spoke three simple words on Sunday that together signaled pride, perseverance and promise of the future not just for himself, but the hospital program that saved his life.

“I’m number eight,” said the 61-year-old grandfather from Hudsonville.

That would be eight of the 10 heart transplant recipients to get a new lease on life through Spectrum Health’s new transplant program at the Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center in Grand Rapids that was certified by the United Network of Organ Sharing last year.

Several of the transplant recipients as well as a dozen or more ventricular assist device patients gathered Sunday at the Frederick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park for a day of support and mingling with doctors and hospital staff.

The get-together followed a golf outing sponsored by the Wizard Foundation, started by the family of Rhan Bentley, the program's first patient last November. Bentley was not at the gathering but Spectrum staff said he is "doing great."

“To be honest, it’s good therapy for us to see you living your lives,” Michael Dickinson, the heart failure program medical director told the gathered crowd.

There was a lot of love in the room for Spectrum doctors from both transplant and assist device patients, who undergo regular check-ups with the hospital the rest of their lives.

Konynenbelt, who got his new heart on March 15 after a little more than two months on the waiting list, said Dickinson told him one day while he was in the hospital that a heart had come in the night before, but it went to another patient.

“(It) wasn’t right for you, he told me.” said Konynenbelt, adding that was a sign that “you’ve got the best (doctors) in the world and they’re looking out just for you.”

Charlie Nawrot, 53, of Grand Rapids got a new heart on Jan 3 and said the staff at Spectrum are “very personable. They take care of you.”

Nawrot’s surgery was one of four that took place in January, a busy month for the heart transplant program said Dr. Asghar Khaghani, head transplant surgeon. They performed four procedures that month alone.

He said it’s not unusual for transplant centers to see a spike in procedures twice a year.
Khaghani, who came to Grand Rapids from a world-renowned transplant program in London, said it was very important for Spectrum to hit their initial target of 10 to 12 procedures they hoped for at the program inception.

The track record is important because the hospital carries the program cost on the front-end. Each transplant is expected to cost about $544,500 and the program is expected to lose about $2 million in the first year.

Hospital leaders expect a net loss of about $226,600 per transplant because of the assumption that two-thirds of patients will not be able to pay.

Khaghani, who has an unusually high number of procedures under his belt — over 1,000 — said Spectrum’s program can easily handle about one procedure per week, but for the next couple years, he thinks 20 to 25 surgeries per year is a good mark.

He called the program “quite standardized” already. Changes will come in the form of new medications and the decision-making on who should be getting transplantation, which he expects to evolve due to the advances in artificial heart device technology.

Advances for that as well as in the ventricular assist device (VAD) — a mechanical circulatory device that is used to partially or completely replace the function of a failing heart — make demand for transplants hard to predict.

Neither device is typically considered a permanent replacement option, although they are used that way with some patients due to age or other factors.

Khaghani believes within about five years, more patients will be getting artificial hearts than actual transplantation because the organ supply can’t meet the patient demand, and the devices are becoming more reliable and durable.

Former auto body shop manager Jim Butts, 57, of Greenville, said mobility on the VAD is “as much as you want to do, within reason.”

Butts, who had congestive heart failure, hunts with bow and gun, snowmobiles, rides a four-wheel off-road vehicle every day, and goes out on a boat.

“I’ve had six open heart operations and I refuse to lose,” he said.

Nearby, former Grand Rapids gynecologist Kathy Williams said her father, Wayne Collins, 77, of Reading, nearly didn’t make it through the hospital bureaucracies in Kalamazoo and Coldwater before getting referred to Grand Rapids for surgery.

“I raised my voice and said ‘he’s going to be dead by the next time you have an appointment scheduled for him,’” she said. “I had to be like that.”

“I’m really happy with all the care he got through the steps,” she said. “But if he didn’t have someone who knew how to push, who to talk to and what they fight for.”

“You Have the Power to Donate Life – Sign-up today!
to become an organ and tissue donor
Tell Your Loved Ones of Your Decision”
United States, organdonor.gov
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Australia, register at Australian Organ Donor Register
Your generosity can save or enhance the lives of up to fifty people with heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas and small intestine transplants (see allotransplantation). One tissue donor can help by donating skin, corneas, bone, tendon, ligaments and heart valves

Has your life been saved by an organ transplant? "Pay it forward" and help spread the word about the need for organ donation - In the U.S. another person is added to the national transplant waiting list every 11 minutes and 18 people die each day waiting for an organ or tissue transplant. Organs can save lives, corneas renew vision, and tissue may help to restore someone's ability to walk, run or move freely without pain. Life Begins with You

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