Heart transplant

Family history of heart disease doesn't slow Matt down

Man, wearing grey shirt and smiling.
Matt Sdano

Thirty-seven-year-old Matt Sdano is the poster child for “family history of heart disease.” His grandfather and great-grandmother died from complications due to heart disease, and his father, Roger, received a heart transplant in 2018.

Everyone in Matt’s family knew heart disease was common, but it was his wife, Mallory, a genetic counselor, who first suggested 12 years ago that his father see a genetic cardiac counselor after suffering a stroke. He found one at UW Health in Madison, Wisconsin, and sure enough, Roger had a gene mutation that could cause arrythmias or death.

As his son, Matt had a 50% chance of inheriting the mutated gene, he first acquired life insurance, then got genetic testing. He learned he had the same gene mutation as his dad. At the time, he was living in Utah, where he found a cardiologist who started some preliminary testing.

The doctor gave Matt a Holter monitor, a wearable device that records the heart’s rhythm and detects an irregular heartbeat. “As far as I had known, I had never experienced any arrythmias,” said Matt. “But the first morning I was wearing the Holter monitor, I got lightheaded right away.”

It turned out Matt had spent 30 seconds in ventricular tachycardia, a type of abnormal heart rhythm. It was concerning enough that his doctor installed an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) in his chest to catch any other arrhythmias before they became dangerous.

For the next six years, Matt was able to live a relatively normal life, spending his time hiking, biking and working. In 2018, he and Mallory moved to Wisconsin to be closer to their family and UW Health, because they knew it was only a matter of time before Matt’s heart issues would resurface.

Matt started experiencing more arrhythmias and hospitalizations over the next five years. He saw a heart failure doctor in March 2023, and had a heart transplant evaluation three months later. Matt needed a heart transplant soon, but his doctor needed him to stop taking a medication he was on for eight weeks before adding him to the wait list.

“That was a pretty long eight weeks,” he said. “I suffered a lot, especially near the end. I was diagnosed as malnourished because I couldn’t keep food down.”

Eventually, doctors had to put a balloon pump into his aorta to support his circulation until he received a donor heart. Matt received his gift of life on Sept. 21, 2023.

At University Hospital, Matt had many of the same nurses his father did for his transplant five years prior. “That made it easier to establish relationships with them,” he said. “Plus, my dad has done so well after transplant, that I was very encouraged. It made it worth going through all of this. Dad truly has a normal life.”

Despite an episode of rejection and subsequent hospitalization, Matt has done well with his recovery. In late fall, he was able to get back out on the hiking trails near his house with his dad—two gift of life recipients enjoying the beauty of nature.

He also appreciates the opportunity to spend time with his 5-year-old daughter, who was conceived through in vitro fertilization (IVF) with pre-implantation genetic testing. Matt and Mallory were concerned about her inheriting his heart disease gene mutation, so they went to great lengths to decrease her risk.

“I’m so glad for the opportunity to do all the things I love in life,” said Matt.