Born with heart defects from blue baby syndrome, Analise Santos rallied through surgeries for much of her life. Santos had major open heart surgery at four years old. As a child, she could not play in gym class, got pneumonia frequently, and had a pacemaker put in when she was 14. When she was 25, a ruptured artery in her left leg led to a double bypass operation in her abdomen, leaving her paralyzed for about three months. Five years later, the bypass was completely blocked, so she had femoral artery surgery. Later, Santos’s cardiac condition had deteriorated and she was subsequently added to the heart transplant list and she continued with numerous medical appointments up to her transplant operation at HUP on June 25, 2010.
Penn’s Heart Failure and Transplantation Program performs more adult heart transplants per year than all other Philadelphia area hospitals combined, making it one of the top three heart transplantation programs in the nation. Even though its faculty and staff treat some of the most complex cases, its heart transplant outcomes are among the nation’s best, with three-year survival rates greater than 80 percent.
“We are very fortunate to have a very experienced team, including surgeons, cardiologists, nurse practitioners, nurses, social workers, pharmacists, as well as an extended ‘family’ within the Transplant Institute,” said Lee Goldberg, MD, MPH, the program’s medical director. “This includes transplant infectious diseases, renal, oncology, HLA lab, toxicology and many others who all contribute to our outcomes. Without a comprehensive, multidisciplinary team, we could not be successful.”
Beyond that, he added, “working closely with our patients and their families and our partners at Gift of Life Donor Program, we’ve been able to make significant progress in heart transplantation care."
The program’s success can be measured by its 2012 Department of Health and Human Services Bronze Medal of Honor award for its role in increasing the number of organs available and transplanted in the United States. The program has also received certification from The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) to train four senior cardiology fellows during the last two years and four additional fellows next year.
After suffering three heart attacks and a stroke – and receiving three stents and 19 cardiac catheterizations -- Ronald Kersetter measures the program by its role in saving his life. While Kersetter was on the heart transplant list, a tragic accident occurred. Members of the victim’s family designated him to receive their loved one’s heart . The approximately 170 mile trip from central Pennsylvania to HUP with his daughter “seemed like forever,” he said.
Soon after the heart transplant, members of the family visited Kerstetter in the hospital to share well wishes. “What they did for me was absolutely incredible,” said Kerstetter. “The fact that it matched was a miracle. I think about it every day.”
Thanks to the new heart, these days are fundamentally changed. “I have 11 steps to my bedroom at night,” said Kerstetter. “Before transplant, I could do four without stopping, four more and stop, then do the last three and catch my breath a third time. That’s how bad my heart was. If it weren’t for them, I’m not sure if I’d be here today to tell you this story. I’m so glad that it worked out and so glad I came here for my transplant.”
Kerstetter, who just finished cardiac rehab, visits the gym three days a week, plays golf, and recently went hunting. “After years of not doing anything, I can’t keep still,” said Kerstetter. “You realize how short life can be."
“Dr. [Michael] Acker, [MD], and the entire Penn team keep me going and make the necessary changes,” said Kerstetter. “Sometimes with multiple caregivers you get issues where one says one thing and another one says another thing. I don’t see that here. Even though I often see someone different, I’m glad I do because I like all of them.”
A similar sentiment extends to the Clyde Barker Transplant House where Kerstetter stays when coming to Penn for appointments. “It’s a great place over there,” he said. “They’re amazing. I’m nine months since transplant and I walk in and everyone calls me by name.”
With his current good health, Kerstetter hopes to offer support to those waiting for a transplant during his monthly visits to the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine. “I tell people you need to sign up to be an organ donor and I also pray that you never die because you needed one and couldn’t get it.”
Wesley Morris, who underwent heart transplant in March 1988, is another success story. He is HUP’s oldest living transplant patient. After experiencing two heart attacks in 16 months, Morris was encouraged by his neighbor, at the time a Penn cardiologist, to go into the hospital as soon as possible.
Morris was 48 when received his transplant. Today, at 73, he works out at the gym three days a week. “I’ve been very fortunate,” he said. “Everyone at Penn is knowledgeable, patient, and treats you with respect. I love everyone I met there.”
Penn’s transplant team performs more adult heart transplants annually than all other Philadelphia area hospitals combined and is the third largest program nationally. It continuously employs numerous advances to keep those with heart failure in the best possible shape going into their transplant. During transplant, the team uses the latest effective medications and methods to minimize any possible rejection and prevent infection and other issues that were more common in transplant centers years ago.
On December 2, 2012, HUP’s transplant team marked 25 years by completing their 1,000th lifesaving heart transplant.
Photo (top): Patient Analise Santos (c.) with members of Penn’s heart transplant team (l. to r.): Debbie Gordon, Patricia Poderis, Nicole Wynne, Ava Dunn-Shaw, Maria R. Molina, Patricia Stutman, and Christine Gearhart.
Photo (right): (from l to r) Patricia Stutman, Maria R. Molina, Lee Goldberg, Christine Gearhart, and patient Ronald Kersetter