Gifts from the Heart

event1National Heart Month would not be complete without Heart to Heart, Emory Transplant Center‘s annual fete for heart transplant recipients and candidates, which was on Feb. 20 at the Miller-Ward Alumni House. Sixty heart transplant recipients and eight patients waiting on the heart transplant list — all supported by their family members — celebrated life during the 27th annual Heart to Heart.

The celebrants were at Heart to Heart to show gratitude for their renewed lives made possible by their organ donor families. Each year, the event draws the newest heart transplant patients as well as those who have had their new heart for many years. Three recipients, Earnest Mitchell, Stephanie Harmon and Herbert Kuper were on hand to honor their organ donor families for their lifesaving gifts and meet up with many of their caregivers during the transplant process.

“I give honor and praise daily to my heart donor and his family,” says Mitchell, who was with his wife, Rhonda — newlyweds, really, since they married in 2014. “This date will always be bittersweet, because we understand that this time of celebration for us will always be a time of remembrance for them.”

Mitchell, a Stockbridge resident, is celebrating his one-and-a-half-year anniversary with his new heart. He is pictured above with transplant cardiologist, Rob Cole, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine. After being diagnosed with heart disease in 2006 and then congestive heart failure in 2009, Mitchell and his wife began investigating treatment options for his weak heart. Little did they know that a heart transplant would be his only option for survival.

event3Mitchell was admitted to Emory University Hospital’s coronary care unit (CCU) for constant monitoring and medication to keep his heart functioning while he waited for his new heart. After 139 days in the CCU, he learned a heart was available. He received his transplant on Aug. 15, 2014.

Stephanie Harmon, from Summerville, Ga., received her new heart in Dec. 2015. A surgical first assistant in a Floyd County hospital, Harmon developed breathing problems after an illness in Dec. 2013. An emergency room doctor diagnosed her with heart failure and she was sent by life-flight to Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital, where she spent the next two months hospitalized. She went home with an Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD), a surgically implanted, battery-operated, mechanical pump that sent blood coursing throughout her body.

Eighteen months later, on Dec. 19, 2015, Harmon received the call from the Emory Transplant Center that a heart was available. “I couldn’t believe it, I was in total shock and I couldn’t move,” says Harmon. “My husband instantly started packing our bags.”

Three month after receiving her new heart, Harmon is doing well. Although it is still too early for her to reach out to her donor family, she is very appreciative of the life-saving gift she received.

South African native turned Atlanta resident, Herbert Kuper, developed an abnormal heart rhythm after knee replacement surgery. Doctors determined he had cardiac amyloidosis, or stiff heart syndrome, where clumps of proteins called amyloids take the place of normal heart muscle.

event2Kuper was placed on the heart transplant list, and received his new heart on Feb. 16, 2015. One year later, he is doing well.

“I am so grateful for my heart donor and family,” he reports. “I am also very appreciative of the amazing doctors and nursing staff at Emory University Hospital and Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital that cared for me while I was so sick.”

According to Dr. Cole, “As a heart failure and heart transplant specialist, it is important to celebrate the new lives of our patients each year because of a precious gift they received. It also is important to honor those families who gave selflessly at a time of tragedy for them.”

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