He joined 85 other lucky people in 2020 in a record-setting year for Stanford Health Care’s heart transplant program.
“We transplanted more patients, we transplanted them faster and we have been getting great outcomes,” said Jeffrey Teuteberg, MD, chief of heart failure, cardiac transplantation and mechanical circulatory support at Stanford Health Care. “It’s a fantastic combination.”
Continuing apace despite pandemic
While the COVID-19 pandemic forced some transplant centers to temporarily slow or even shut down, Stanford Medicine’s program continued apace, as the medical center maintained enough beds for patients, who were housed in an isolated unit, and established a rigorous testing program to ensure patient safety, Teuteberg said.
“Fortunately, it had very little impact,” said Teuteberg, an associate professor of medicine. “We were very lucky here in California for most of the year compared with other parts of the country. Even with the current surge, it hasn’t had a major impact on the program.”
Stanford, which pioneered heart transplantation, ranks as the fourth-largest transplant program in the country.
In recent years, Stanford Health Care has averaged about 65 transplants a year. In 2020, the number rose in part because Stanford physicians actively reached out to heart centers in the Bay Area and beyond, resulting in more patient referrals.
The shorter wait times were related in part to a new system initiated by the United Network for Organ Sharing, the nonprofit that manages the nation’s organ transplant system. Under a new protocol, the network places patients into one of six categories, instead of one of three categories, based on the severity of their illness. That helps medical centers identify the most acutely ill patients in immediate need of a transplant and match available organs to them faster.
The wait time for undergoing a heart transplant at Stanford Health Care last year averaged about three months — better than other heart transplant centers in the Bay Area and nationally — with some of the sickest patients receiving transplants in as little as a week, Teuteberg said.
“Our waiting list typically has been small and has been getting smaller because we transplant people so quickly,” Teuteberg said.
The national registry figures also suggest that Stanford is capitalizing on the available pool of organs, which unfortunately are still in chronically short supply. Transplant centers generally evaluate organs on the basis of several factors, such as the pumping ability of the donor heart, the donor’s age and the distance to travel to retrieve the organ. Stanford is 93% more likely to accept an organ than other centers around the country, the national registry shows.
He’s now adapting to his new life, building up his stamina with 1- to 2-mile daily walks with his wife, Susan, and their new miniature poodle.
“I’m living for the day — carpe diem, enjoying the small things and not taking anything for granted,” he said. “It’s a huge second chance.”