Heart Transplant: Jan's Story

Jan (far left), shown wearing her VAD support vest prior to her heart transplant, with her family (from left): Dan, Jenn, Kate, ScottOver the years, Jan Miller-Jacobson has been a hero for teenagers who need a place to call home. While Jan's own five children were still in school, she took in several young people who had nowhere else to go because of difficult family situations.


In 2013, the former teacher found herself in need of her own haven when she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and required more care than she was receiving. She found that haven at UW Hospital and Clinics, where she ultimately received a heart transplant.


"The care I got in Madison was exemplary," says Jan, 62, who lives in West Salem, Wisconsin. "Everybody knew what they were doing. They are above-and-beyond professional."


Her problems began in the fall of 2012, when she noticed her lungs were rattling at bedtime. She visited a local urgent care facility and received antibiotics, but the problem kept worsening. Finally, her husband, Monte, convinced her to see her primary care physician, who ordered a chest X-ray that showed her heart was four times bigger than it was supposed to be. The cardiologist Jan saw diagnosed her with congestive heart failure, prescribed medication and sent her on her way.


In January 2013, Jan had become so sick that her primary care physician recommended she see another cardiologist. This physician had just finished a sabbatical at UW Hospital learning about ventricular assist devices (VADs), which can help replace the function of a failing heart. The cardiologist took one look at her and admitted her to the hospital immediately, transporting her by helicopter to UW Hospital and Clinics the following day. Walter Kao, MD, a UW Health cardiologist, treated her there.


Jan had her VAD implant surgery right away. While it was a lot of work to care for, the VAD enabled her to live a normal life.


"My husband had to clean the pump every day," she says. "He deserves a lot of credit for that."


She was even able to fly down to her vacation home in Florida for a week in November.


Shortly after returning from Florida, Jan received the all-important call. After about seven months on the transplant waiting list, she was about to receive a heart. Cardiovascular surgeon Takushi Kohmoto, MD, PhD, performed her heart transplant on November 17, 2013.


After her return home, Jan had a difficult time adjusting to the anti-rejection pills, but gradually began feeling better. She was even able to drive back to Florida for three weeks in March. She wrote a thank-you note to her donor shortly after the surgery and mailed it following her six-month checkup.


"I have always been 100 percent behind organ donation," she says. "I never thought I would receive one, but I don't think most people walk around thinking they will."


"I've always been high-energy and doing 10 things at the same time," continues Jan, who enjoys sewing and spending time with her four grandchildren. "For a while, I couldn't do anything. But now I feel great. I go to physical therapy and my husband and I walk every day. I feel like I'm getting back to where I was, which is amazing."