Patient Stories

Heart to Heart – Celebrating Our Heart Transplant Patients

Harry WuestEach year, Emory heart transplant recipients, their families and our staff and faculty look forward to Heart to Heart, a celebration of renewed lives through heart transplantation and the gift of organ donation. This year, heart transplant recipients from both Emory University Hospital and Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital attended the event on Saturday, February 14th, at the Miller-Ward Alumni House. The Valentine’s Day event was a great success with nearly 200 guests attending.

“We always enjoy seeing the smiling faces of our heart transplant recipients and their families, especially on Valentine’s Day, a holiday celebrating the heart” says Neile Chesnut, Manager of the Emory Heart Transplant Program. “The celebration affirms how important our work is. We love seeing so many recipients doing well and back to their normal lives.”

One of the event’s highlights was getting reacquainted with Harry Wuest, who had the “oldest” heart. In May, Harry will celebrate the 30th anniversary of his heart transplant. Harry received a new heart on May 24, 1985 and was the third patient to receive a heart transplant at Emory University Hospital. At the time, his heart was weakened from cardiomyopathy, which he suffered with for 12 years. He was unable to work and in such bad shape, he spent a month hospitalized in the cardiac care unit prior to his transplant.

With his new heart, this lively 70-year-old is in good health. Harry spends time with his 10 grandchildren, works full-time as a CPA at Bach, James, Mansour & Company in Duluth, and plays a mean game of golf. (“I feed the fish,” he says.)

Harry’s happy story is one of many told time and time again among the recipients at Heart to Heart. It is an honor to know that we, the Emory Transplant Center, might have had a small part to play in the lives of the people there, recipients whose lives were forever changed by the miracle of donation and heart transplantation.

A Home Away From Home for Transplant Patients

Mason House VisitThe Mason Guest House is a private retreat on the Emory University campus offering low cost housing for organ transplant candidates, recipients, living donors, and their families. It serves as a home-away-from-home, allowing patients to be away from the hospital setting, but yet close enough to feel secure should they need medical assistance.

During the holiday season, the Mason Guest House, like Emory University Hospital, did not close. It continued to serve transplant patients and their families, opening their doors to accommodate as many guests as possible. Kidney transplant recipient Donald Mason invited a couple of family members to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with him.

The wife of a lung transplant patient wrote on a comment card, “Because the timing of our transplant (and additional complications) that happened over the holidays, it touched our hearts that the Mason Guest House took that under consideration [and provided a] ‘holiday feel’ with a Thanksgiving dinner and atmosphere that allowed us to enjoy the holiday even though we were not able to spend it at home with our family. We now have extended family with your staff. God bless and thank you for all you do.”

Mason House HolidayLiver transplant recipient, Robert Croyle, schedules his annual follow-up appointments during the Thanksgiving holiday each year so that he can bring his traditional cornbread stuffing for dinner and play special holiday music for guests.

The Mason Guest House also hosted its annual Christmas dinner with some of the same guests who remained at the House throughout the holidays.

Many guests have to catch meals when they can, sometimes at odd hours. “Having a nice, unhurried sit-down meal is a much needed comfort to a lot of our guests,” says Mason Guest House guest services coordinator Zadya Lundgren. “We always enjoy the festive spirit and lively conversations we get to have with our guests during the holidays.”

For more information about the Mason Guest House or to make a reservation, call 404-712-5110.

Take a tour of the Mason Guest House. 

The Most Precious Gift – the Gift of Life

As a reminder during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, please take a moment to reflect on those who have given the most precious of gifts – the gift of life.

At Emory, each time a patient or their family makes the generous decision to donate his or her organs; a Donor Flag is raised in their honor. The family is then presented with a replica flag as a memento of this most precious gift.

“As the Donate Life flag is raised, what that means to me is it honors those who have graciously made the decision to give life. And it also allows people hope and a second chance with their renewed and active life”, says Kimberly Simpson-Dailey.

In this video, Kimberly Simpson-Dailey remembers her son, Anthony, whose organs were donated when a sudden and rare illness took his life. She reflects on this with a mix of pride and grief. May we remember all of our loved ones this holiday season, honoring their life and the life they have passed on to others.

Truly Thankful – Update on Veteran Police Officer and Altruistic Donor

Raleigh Callaway

Raleigh Callaway and Chris Carroll

As you may remember, it all started with a Facebook post. Raleigh Callaway received a lot of media attention when his wife posted a message on Facebook sharing Raleigh’s need for a kidney. The post resulted in thousands of people contacting the Emory Transplant Center with offers of help. But it was one man from Texas who heard his story, and gave the gift of life – a new kidney. Chris Carroll, who lives near Dallas, says he saw the Callaway family pictured on Facebook with their two children holding a sign that read, “Our Daddy Needs a Kidney.” Chris said he felt divinely led to call to see if he could become a donor.

“I’m just blessed to be able to do it,” Carroll said in one of the many TV interviews the two have conducted after their donor and transplant operations. The media coverage has spread far and wide — from the U.S. to the U.K., Australia and Japan. You can check out some of the stories at these Atlanta outlets: AJC.com, WAGA-TV, WSB-TV, and WGCL-TV.

Carroll’s and Callaway’s surgeon, Dr. Nicole Turgeon, says they are both doing “incredibly well.” Callaway hopes to go back to his job as a police investigator in Greensboro, Ga. in a couple of months to continue to support his family. His community will be glad to have him back on the job.

As we reflect on this Thanksgiving holiday and of all that we are thankful for, let’s remember those who have given the generous donation of life through organ transplantation.

Emory Transplant Center Patients Represent Georgia in the Transplant Games of America

Transplant Games of AmericaThe competition was fierce this summer in the muggy Texas heat as Team Georgia participated in and watched athletic competitions at the Transplant Games of America at Rice University in Houston.

The team had 27 athletes representing six transplant centers from Georgia as well as 32 sports fans cheering on the athletes. The team had three donor family members, four living donors, 19 organ transplant recipients, and one cornea recipient who all brought home a total of 48 medals. Co-captains Joe Stott (heart recipient, Emory) and Sherrell Gay (heart and heart/kidney recipient, Emory) led the delegation.

We are so proud of our Emory Transplant Center athletes that we just couldn’t resist listing their names.

Here were their accomplishments:

Heart Transplant

  • Doug Austin — doubles golf (silver) and singles golf
  • Tim Lamberg — singles golf (gold), doubles golf (silver) and 5K run/walk
  • Joe Stott — singles bowling (bronze), 5K and doubles bowling
  • Richard Walker — mixed doubles tennis (gold), singles tennis, table tennis, and 5K
  • Malia Veator — 5K (gold), 1500m (gold), 100m (silver), 800m (silver), and mixed doubles tennis (gold)

Heart/Kidney

  • Sherrell Gay — cornhole game, table tennis and 5K

Kidney

  • Kevin Schneider (living donor) — singles golf (gold) and trivia games

Liver Transplant

  • Sharon Jean Cyprien — 400m (gold), 200m (gold) and 100m (silver)

Lung Transplant

  • Keith Harris — 5K and singles golf

“We feel our supporters/fans are so important to our wellbeing,” reports Gay, “so I have to mention we had two mascots. Tim Lamburg’s daughter dressed as ‘Peachy’ and Joe Stott’s 84-year-old mother-in-law was ‘Mrs. Peanut.’”

Way to go, Team Georgia!

AJC Features Emory Transplant Center Patients Freed of Type 1 Diabetes

islet transplant patientThe Emory Transplant Center is one of just a handful of institutions around the world performing islet transplants as a type 1 diabetes treatment. Emory is currently the only islet cell transplant program in Georgia, with 19 patients receiving islet transplants to date.

Islet cell transplant is still in the research phase awaiting Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval so the surgery will no longer be experimental. Read a story in the Atlanta Journal Constitution featuring two Emory patients who have been diabetes free for a decade now thanks to islet transplant at Emory.

Learn About Islet Transplants

What Are Islets?
Islets are insulin-producing cell clusters found in the pancreas, which is a six- to ten-inch organ that lies behind the stomach. Each islet cluster is about the size of a grain of salt and contains a few thousand cells. A healthy pancreas has approximately a million islet clusters.
Glucose is the fuel that provides energy to cells. Insulin allows glucose from the bloodstream to enter cells. Without insulin, cells are deprived of fuel, and they begin to starve. As the cells starve, the level of glucose in the bloodstream rises to dangerous levels.
In type 1 diabetes, islets in the pancreas are destroyed by the body’s immune system. Without islets, the body cannot produce insulin. People with type 1 diabetes require several injections of insulin each day. They must follow a strict diet and monitor their blood glucose carefully. Sometimes, even the most diligent patients cannot completely control their blood sugar levels. Diabetes that is very difficult to control is called brittle diabetes.

Why Islet Transplantation?
Islet transplantation can restore insulin production by replacing the islets that have been destroyed. When insulin production is restored, blood glucose levels stabilize, and the health risks associated with low and high blood sugars are greatly reduced.

What Is an Islet Transplant?
The islet cell transplant process begins when islets for transplantation from a donated pancreas become available. During the islet transplantation procedure, the islets are infused into a blood vessel that leads to the liver. The islets from the pancreas are also separated from other cells through a highly complex process called “islet isolation.” The islets are then infused and lodged into the liver of the recipient, where they are able to detect the level of glucose in the blood and produce the correct amount of insulin. Recent advances in islet isolation have resulted in sustained insulin independence in people with type 1 diabetes, which may make islet transplantation more common in the foreseeable future.

Complete Stranger Gives the Gift of Life to a Georgia Police Officer

It all started with a Facebook post…Raleigh Callaway, a veteran Georgia police officer and patient of the Emory Transplant Center, needed a kidney transplant. Desperate to find a match as he entered the late stages of renal failure, he and his family turned to social media to find a potential donor.

The Callaways’ posted a message on Facebook sharing Raleigh’s need for a kidney and a donor. The post resulted in more than 900 people contacting the Emory Transplant Center – one of whom was Chris Carroll, a health care consultant and grandfather from McKinney, Texas. He saw the post and suddenly felt compelled to give.

After going through extensive testing to see if Chris would be a match for Raleigh, the kidney transplant surgery was performed Thursday, September 25, 2014. Emory doctors said that Raleigh and donor Chris both did “incredibly well” following the operation. Chris was discharged from Emory University Hospital on Saturday, and Callaway is expected to be discharged from the hospital on Monday.

Chris was among hundreds who contacted Emory wanting to help. Dr. Nicole Turgeon, Emory transplant surgeon who performed the operation, credits the power of social media for not just saving Raleigh Callaway’s life, but potentially many more. Of the hundreds who contacted Emory, more than 125 people are still being considered for transplant surgeries to other patients. This generous act will continue to give to other patients.

Check out the video below to learn more about this incredible story!

Happy Update – Worth the Wait

Just a few weeks ago, we told you about 23-year-old college student Kayla, who was in desperate need of a heart and kidney transplant. After weeks waiting in the hospital on the transplant list, Kayla received the ultimate gift — new heart and kidney. Learn more about Kayla’s happy ending – and plans for her new beginning — by watching this FOX 5 news segment.

Atlanta News, Weather, Traffic, and Sports | FOX 5

Kayla’s Wait

For the more than 100,000 people in the United States on the list waiting for an organ transplant, life is a waiting game. Unfortunately, it’s a game Kayla is playing for the second time.

The 23-year-old college student received her first heart transplant when she was just a baby, and although her donor heart has far outlasted predictions, Kayla now needs a new heart and also a kidney.

Watch this Fox 5 news segment to learn more about Kayla’s story.

Atlanta News, Weather, Traffic, and Sports | FOX 5

Related Resources:

Emory Transplant Center
The Gift of Organ Donation
Takeaways from Dr. Turgeon’s “Kidney Swaps and Emory’s Paired Donor Exchange Program” Live Chat

Catching Up with Kidney Transplant Recipient Ken Sutha

Sutha1As we continue to celebrate National Donate Life Month, we love to get and give updates on some of our patients. When we last told you about kidney transplant recipient Ken Sutha, he had just won three medals – two gold and one silver – at the 2010 National Kidney Foundation (NKF) U.S. Transplant Games. Sutha, who received a donor kidney from his father, competed in the 100-yard medley, 50-yard butterfly, 100-yard backstroke, and 500-yard freestyle events. Ken also has completed in triathlons.

Ken’s success goes well beyond athletics, though. After his transplant, Ken received a four-year academic scholarship from the Georgia Transplant Foundation, which helped support his education through graduate and medical school. After graduating from Emory University School of Medicine last summer, he moved to Seattle where he has been in training as a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital and the University of Washington. While enjoying life in the Pacific Northwest, he’s been caring for many different kinds of kids, including some who are awaiting transplants or who already have had transplant.

“I’ve been getting involved in transplant and donation awareness organizations out here, but I do miss everyone back at the Georgia Transplant Foundation and the Emory Transplant Center,” says Sutha. “Before my transplant, I would have never imagined the direction my life could take. I am so grateful to the transplant community for giving me the opportunity to succeed in many different aspects of my life!

Related Resources:

From Kidney Transplant to Gold Medal