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One Saturday night in January 2021, David Peterson woke up with what felt like the flu. Given the current state of affairs in the world, he was sure he had the coronavirus (COVID-19).
He sought treatment at a hospital near his home in Roscoe, Ill., but he tested negative for the coronavirus, so the hospital sent him home with antibiotics. Twenty days later, he was back — and much worse. His doctors found a bacterial growth in his heart and transferred him to University Hospital in Madison, where the team went into action.
David’s heart problems first began in 2014, when he suffered from a 7-centimeter aneurysm. Doctors removed the aneurysm and inserted an artificial heart valve. His issues in 2021 occurred because bacteria began to grow on the valve, causing an infection in his heart. Shortly after he arrived at University Hospital, staff scheduled a surgery to replace his valve, and during the surgery, they discovered the infection and had to cut out a large portion of his heart.
“I learned later I almost died on the table,” David said. “They called my family to the hospital so they could see me one last time.”
David survived the procedure thanks to his doctors, who put a patch on his heart to stop the bleeding. But once he woke up, he was so weak he couldn’t even hold up a cell phone, mainly because his heart had lost most of its function. He would not be able to leave the hospital without a new heart, so UW Health Heart Transplant Program staff performed the necessary tests and got him on the heart transplant list.
Within a week of being placed on the list, David received the call he had been waiting for: There was an available heart that was a good match for him. His doctor informed him that the donor was positive for Hepatitis C virus, but David could receive treatment starting from the day of his transplant so he would not be affected by the disease from his donor.
David’s new heart was recovered from a donation after circulatory death (DCD) donor. UW Health is one of just a few transplant centers involved in a trial study on the use of DCD hearts. During this process, organs are retrieved from a patient after his or her heart stops. Health care professionals then perfuse the heart in warm blood and are able to assess the organ’s viability, essentially “reanimating” it for use in another person. The study has the potential of radically increasing the number of donor hearts that are available and saving more lives, like David’s.
David was just fine with accepting a Hepatitis C positive DCD heart. “I wanted the first heart that became available,” he said. “As long as they deemed it healthy enough for transplant. The whole staff on the transplant floor was great. They were true professionals.”
Almost immediately after David returned home to Roscoe, he started making calls for work (he’s a small engine parts salesman). After about a month, he returned to the road. “I’m pretty strong-willed,” he said. “I’m feeling really good.