Peter Myer is happy to be back home in Albany, spending time with his wife, Marie.Photo by Daniella Inzerilli
After three cardiac events that greatly damaged his heart, a grandfather in Albany is eager to dive into life again, following innovative heart transplant surgery at Westchester Medical Center.
By Debra Bresnan
Peter Myer celebrated his 74th birthday in May, making plans to open his backyard pool for the season and spend time with family. But just a few months earlier — after a third, near-fatal cardiac event, backyard pools and normal life seemed most unlikely.
Even more far-fetched was the idea he’d be recovering from successful heart transplant surgery.
“I had a heart attack out of the blue about a year ago,” says Myer, a substance-abuse counselor. “I had experienced some shortness of breath, but no real symptoms and not a lot of pain.”
Subsequent heart events and the resulting damage left Myer looking at his options. At the advice of his medical team, he was placed on a heart transplant list.
Myer was transferred to Westchester Medical Center, the flagship of WMCHealth and the only hospital between New York City and Rochester where heart transplants are performed. “Immediately, I was impressed by the professionalism of the staff,” he recalls. “Everyone was so well trained and got it right, right from the start.”
“When Peter transferred here, our entire team evaluated him and determined his best option would be a heart transplant,” says Masashi Kai, MD, Director, Heart Transplantation and Mechanical Circulatory Support, WMCHealth. Myer’s history of heart failure, worsening symptoms and his heart’s lack of responsiveness to medical therapies indicated he needed a new heart soon. Myer was accepted for a clinical trial, held at Westchester Medical Center and 24 other centers nationwide, using a heart retrieved from a Donation after Circulatory Death (DCD), which expands the potential donor pool (see below).
“Once I listened to the doctors and stopped saying, ‘Heart transplant! Oh my God,’ I felt better about what they were recommending and had less fear. Medical advances are so great. Don’t ever give up hope.” —Peter Myer
Remarkably, a suitable heart was found for him in a week. “His blood type is O, which is usually the longest wait,” says Stephen Pan, MD, a cardiologist who specializes in advanced heart failure and cardiac transplantation at WMCHealth. “In addition, he’s taller than the average person, so we had to find an appropriately sized match for his heart. In the past, the wait would have been several weeks, perhaps months.”
After an all-night surgery performed by Dr. Kai and his team in the early spring, Myer had his new heart. “These people saved my life. The medical team is unbelievable and did an amazing job,” he says.
“I came here with the right attitude. Once I got my head right about getting a new heart, I was all in. I am walking, climbing stairs, exercising and I changed my diet. I was a burger guy, and now I have discovered fruit! I’m grateful, motivated and following the protocols.”
After three months away from home, Myer says, “I couldn’t wait to be in my own house washing my own dishes. But don’t tell my wife I said that!”
Westchester Medical Center is the first hospital in New York State to transplant a heart with the assistance of a portable medical technology that keeps the donor heart pumping blood after its procurement. FDA approval and commercial availability of the technology is expected soon. Currently, nearly 10,000 New York State residents are in need of an organ transplant, and each year, more than 500 state residents die while waiting for an organ transplant list, due to a lack of suitable, donated organs.
Donation after circulatory death (DCD) expands the donor pool for patients with end-stage organ failure. Today, utilizing this protocol, a heart can be retrieved from a donor following brain/circulatory death, resuscitated to a normal beating state, then transported and clinically assessed prior to transplantation. This also permits the transportation of donor hearts over longer distances, thus increasing the number of available donor hearts to New York residents.
“Westchester Medical Center is in the top 15 percent of medical facilities in the U.S. for volume of heart transplants,” says Dr. Kai, who has performed heart transplants for 20 years. “One of the keys to our success is transporting donor hearts quickly to a recipient in need. DCD helps us do that even better.”
Another factor in successful transplants, says Dr. Kai, is a patient’s overall health. “Age is just a number,” he says. “As we get older, risk increases exponentially, but what’s important is a candidate’s health status outside of their heart. Even people with advanced heart disease have options, and DCD opens up a lot of them to save lives.”
The Westchester Medical Center Health Network (WMCHealth) is a 1,700-bed healthcare system headquartered in Valhalla, New York, with 10 hospitals on eight campuses spanning 6,200 square miles of the Hudson Valley. WMCHealth employs more than 13,000 people and has nearly 3,000 attending physicians. The Network has Level 1, Level 2 and Pediatric Trauma Centers, the region’s only acute care children’s hospital, an academic medical center, Primary and Comprehensive Stroke Centers, several community hospitals, dozens of specialized institutes and centers, skilled nursing, assisted living facilities, homecare services and one of the largest mental health systems in New York State. Today, WMCHealth is the pre-eminent provider of integrated healthcare in the Hudson Valley. For more information about WMCHealth, visit WMCHealth.org.