In August 2008, Penn patient Karl Schumm began to experience chest pain and heart palpitations. A newlywed, he was driving home from work to relax with his wife for the evening when he began to feel terribly sick. Having been diagnosed with heart disease and undergoing bypass surgery at age 32, he was no stranger to the symptoms he was experiencing. He was having a heart attack and he knew he needed help right away. He pulled into a fire station parking lot and was whisked away to a nearby hospital.
Karl and Karen Schumm celebrate life at their “heart party.” Proceeds were donated to the Clyde F. Barker Transplant House.
Karl was ultimately brought to HUP for treatment and the beginning of a year-long journey that would end in a heart transplant and a new chance at life with his new bride.
“My life was saved several times [at Penn] and several amazing things transpired before I was able to really understand what and how they happened,” Karl says now.
Karl’s wife, Karen, was by his side for the entire process and he credits her with helping him understand just how dire his situation was when he came to Penn Medicine. “Those first few weeks were so difficult. Everything was happening so quickly,” said Karen Schumm. “But everyone, from the top doctors to the cleaning ladies and everyone in between, was so supportive.”
In order to stabilize his critical condition when he was brought to HUP, doctors had to use ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation) on Karl. ECMO is a life-saving technique providing both cardiac and respiratory support to patients whose heart and lungs are so severely diseased or damaged that they can no longer serve their function. Patients who are placed on ECMO are desperately ill; many do not survive this phase of their illness. Penn doctors subsequently determined that Karl’s only chance was to undergo a heart transplant.
Nearly 300,000 patients die from heart failure each year in the United States, and although approximately 10,000 qualify as transplant candidates, only about 2,000 cardiac transplants are performed each year because of a limited availability of donor hearts. When a heart isn’t immediately available, many patients must be put on a mechanical assist device to support their failing heart and their overall function and well-being.
In Karl’s case, Alberto Pochettino, MD, director of the Lung Transplantation Program, had to implant an assist device in both of the patient’s ventricles, or a biventricular assist device (bivad). He did well on the bivad and was put on the waiting list for a heart transplant and eventually received a new heart in August 2009.
“Karl’s life was saved because of the extraordinary team of physicians and nurses at Penn who had the skill, knowledge and available technology to keep him safe while a donor heart was found,” said Mariell Jessup, MD, medical director of the Heart and Vascular Center and one of the doctors who helped care for Karl.
One year after his transplant, the Schumms threw a “heart party” to celebrate life and the health that Karl now has as a result of the ultimate gift he was given. During the party, family and friends collected more than $700 in donations for the recently opened Clyde F. Barker Penn Transplant House. “We wanted to give something back and help other patients and their families who are also facing this kind of life changing event,” said Karen.
Earlier this year, thanks to the amazing care and teamwork that went into caring for this remarkable man, Karl was able to walk his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day.
“Life is precious! Life is good!” he says.