Fab Five One Remarkable Week, Five Heart Transplants


People grouped in the shape of a heart; Four of the five heart transplant recipients and their health care team, UW Health Transplant ProgramMADISON - This past April, in the middle of Donate Life Month, surgeons with the UW Transplant Program did something they've never done before: They performed five heart transplants in a single week, prolonging the lives of five patients, from as nearby as Madison and as far away as Bettendorf, Iowa.


"It really was a remarkable week," says Niloo Edwards, MD, the transplant surgeon who heads the cardiothoracic transplant division at UW Hospital and Clinics. "It's also an amazing testament to the five individuals who donated their organs so that these patients could live."


Emily Culver of La Crosse was among the lucky and historic group. She'd been struggling since a 1997 heart attack dropped her heart function to a frightening 15 percent. On April 21, she was given a new heart and a new chance at life.


"I really don't know how long my heart would have lasted," says Culver, 65, who's now back to enjoying her retired life with her husband, as she continues to recuperate.


Culver and the rest of the Fab Five, as they've come to be known, are fortunate in several ways: More than 90 percent of recipients who receive a heart transplant at UW Hospital are living healthy lives three years after transplant. That's more than 10 percent better than the national average.


Maryl Johnson, MD, the medical director of the UW Health Heart Transplant program and the cardiologist who treated all five patients prior to transplant, is proud that UW's Organ Procurement Organization was able to respond quickly and efficiently when the donor hearts became available.


"I kept telling my patients it was going to happen, and that magic moment finally came," Dr. Johnson says.


Still, the number of patients awaiting a heart, some of them extremely sick, remains large. "Our waiting list will never go away," says Dr. Johnson. A month or so after their surgeries, four of the five patients, including Culver, convened in Madison to meet each other and share their experiences and good fortune.


"It was great to see other people and see how well they're doing," says Culver. "It makes you feel so much better to know you're not alone"


Pictured above: Four of the five heart transplant recipients (in red) are surrounded by the UW Health team that worked to save their lives.

Date Published: 11/06/2009

News tag(s):  transplantmaryl r johnson

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