Press Release

After 25 Years, One Man Proves What Heart-lung Transplant Can Do

04.02.2014

Steve Rasmussen

HOW LONG CAN A HEART-LUNG TRANSPLANT LAST?

At 26 years out, Steve Rasmussen is not the longest surviving heart-lung transplant recipient. The woman who was Stanford's heart-lung transplant patient #39 is at 27 ½ years since her transplant.

WHY HAS STEVE RASMUSSEN SURVIVED SO LONG WITH A HEART-LUNG TRANSPLANT?

Reitz knows that Rasmussen's transplant longevity is unusual. He thinks that it might be related to some kind of difference in Rasmussen' immune system. Another possibility is the combination of a particular donor and a particular recipient. "Frankly, we don't have any real clue what it is about the long-term survivors that has given them this tremendous gift," Reitz said.

HOW DID THE FIRST HEART-LUNG TRANSPLANT AT STANFORD AFFECT OTHER HEART-LUNG TRANSPLANTS?

Cyclosporine, an immunosuppressant with low toxicity, was found originally by a group of Swiss scientists in 1976. It had subsequently proven itself important in the survival of heart transplant patients. When newspaper advertising executive Mary Gohlke came to Stanford for her heart-lung transplant, however, the FDA had not yet approved cyclosporine for anything other than heart transplant. And it was processing applications facility by facility. After waiting for months for the approval, Gohlke asked the executive editor of her newspaper to see what he could do. He made calls, one of them to Arizona's U.S. senator. Shortly thereafter, Reitz got a call. Not only had the FDA approved Stanford's use of cyclosporine, it had given blanket approval to all qualified medical facilities to use the drug in heart-lung transplant. Gohlke's perseverance had opened the door for many others waiting for that approval.

WHAT WAS THAT FIRST HEART-LUNG TRANSPLANT LIKE?

"The whole team was excited," Reitz said, "because this was something they had not seen in their lifetime. It's pretty dramatic when you take out the heart and the lung and you have this huge space with the ribs. You think, 'What is going on?' But taking someone back from the brink of death and giving them health—that's one of the great things about transplant and being involved in transplant."

Steve and Renee Rasmussen 

About Stanford Health Care

Stanford Health Care seeks to heal humanity through science and compassion one patient at a time, through its commitment to care, educate, and discover. Stanford Health Care delivers clinical innovation across its inpatient services, specialty health centers, physician offices, virtual care offerings and health plan programs.

Stanford Health Care is a leading academic health system and part of Stanford Medicine, which includes the Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford. Stanford Medicine is renowned for breakthroughs in treating cancer, heart disease, brain disorders and surgical and medical conditions. For more information, visit: www.stanfordhealthcare.org.

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