Heart Transplant Patients Celebrate Anniversaries

The Texas Heart Institute at Saint Luke's Hospital invited heart transplant patients back for a kind of birthday party. The men and women have reached their 20th anniversaries with their new hearts. Houston Public Radio's Capella Tucker reports.

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Cindy Shabow was pregnant. During one of her normal check-ups, her doctor said her heart sounded funny. Shabow was referred to a cardiologist. She had a healthy baby and was monitored for another four years.

"I suddenly was very weak, had no breath. My daughter was little and she couldn't sit in my lap because I couldn't breath. It was very scary."

Shabow's heart had grown larger than the standard size which is that of a fist. As it grows larger, the heart no longer contracts and relaxes, it only quivers. Shabow went to the hospital thinking she was only going in for a check-up. Instead she was admitted into the hospital. Eight weeks later she had a new heart.

"Immediately right when I woke up, I could tell a difference. My heart had been so weak before that this new heart sounded loud. And it took me a while to get used to being able to hear that strong heart beat."

It did take a while to get strength back. Doctor Bud Frazier is the chief of Cardiopulmonary Transplantation and director of Surgical Research at the Texas Heart Institute at Saint Luke's. He says anniversaries like these are happy and sad at the same time for him.

"You have to hold things into perspective because I also see patients that I did at this time who aren't here anymore."

Frazier notes transplants have their limitations. One being that it depends on someone else's misfortune.

"Last year we only did 1,600 transplants. The years past we've done about 2,000 so the numbers are coming down. And why? Because we have fewer deaths from automobile accidents and we have fewer deaths from the traumatic injuries that would render a donor possible and these are all good things."

Frazier says the answer in the future will hopefully be mechanical hearts.

"I think that's the real hope to statistically impact premature death from heart failure is the mechanical assists."

Frazier says research has shown that a person's natural heart can improve with mechanical devices. He sees improvement happening on both transplants and mechanical hearts moving forward. Capella Tucker, Houston Public Radio News.

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