The team at the Emory Transplant Center has performed more organ transplants in the state of Georgia than any other transplant center. Because the Georgia community trusts the expertise of our transplant team, we have performed some of the most complex transplant procedures in the area. Our team performed the first hand transplant in the state of Georgia and the Southeast, for example, and we’ve performed over half of the multi-organ transplants in Georgia. While you’ve seen us share stories like that of Jo Ellen Kimball and her double lung transplant, multi-organ transplants are rare, making up just over 1% of all transplant procedures conducted in Georgia since 1988. But even more rare, is a double transplant involving a heart and a liver, with only 60 of these procedures having been performed in the U.S. And even more rare, a triple transplant, involving the transplantation of a heart, liver and kidney.
Today, thanks to a triple organ transplant, a 37-year-old mother of two in Georgia is celebrating Christmas with a renewed spirit of hope and thankfulness this year. Just five months ago, Stephanie Lindstrom received a triple organ transplant at Emory University Hospital, the first triple transplant ever to be performed in the state of Georgia.
Following a lifetime battle of congenital heart complications, Stephanie’s condition became critical this summer when she was told she would need not only a new heart, but that she would also need a new liver and kidney. All other interventions to help her were not successful.
“Because of Stephanie’s heart failure, she developed liver failure. Then she became septic, which led to kidney failure. So a triple organ transplant was our only hope to save her,” says Stuart Knechtle, MD, professor of surgery at Emory University School of Medicine and director of the Adult Liver Transplantation Program.
Stephanie, a former marathon runner, was born without a tricuspid valve, which helps move blood through the heart in the right direction. She had four surgeries as a child to repair the problem. After she graduated from college, more heart valve problems occurred, but this time, with her mitral valve. Doctors diagnosed Stephanie with mitral valve regurgitation and said it needed to be corrected.
Stephanie, who lives in South Carolina, scheduled an appointment with Wendy Book, MD, associate professor of medicine at Emory and medical director of Emory’s Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program. “When I first met Stephanie, I immediately knew she was a resilient, strong-willed person who was a fighter,” says Dr. Book. “We knew her heart and liver were in bad shape because of her congenital complications, but problems with her kidney had not yet surfaced.”
In September 2011, Stephanie was placed on the waiting list for a heart and a liver. In May 2012, she contracted cytomegalovirus, and was admitted to the hospital to be put on dialysis and breathing machines. At that point, she was moved up on the waiting list for her new organs, which now included a kidney.
On July 7, 2012, doctors got the call that a match had been found for Stephanie. On that day, both her heart and liver were transplanted during a lengthy surgery.
First Brian Kogon, MD, surgical director of the Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program transplanted her new heart, assisted by David Vega, MD, director of Emory’s Heart Transplant Program. Then Knechtle and transplant surgeon Andrew Adams, MD, transplanted the liver. The following day, Knechtle transplanted her kidney. All three organs came from the same donor.
“The risks for a triple organ transplant are very high for a patient with a three-system failure, and one we had never attempted before,” says Kogon. “Her previous surgeries and critically-ill state at the time of the transplants made things challenging. But Mrs. Lindstrom’s age and determination to survive made her an ideal candidate for these procedures.”
Stephanie spent the next three months at Emory University Hospital recovering, while battling complications. She was able to return home in October 2012, five months after she was admitted.
“I am so grateful to the doctors, nurses and support staff who made these transplants possible,” says Stephanie. “They have given me a new lease on life. The holiday season has truly taken on such a special meaning to my family and me this year because of the many gifts we have been given.”