Megan Moss, 25, of Ferguson, Mo., is one of the best-known patients in the Barnes-Jewish Hospital heart transplant program’s 25-year history.
Throughout her illness, heart transplant surgery and recovery, Moss’s parents kept friends and family updated through a blog – megansheartstory.blogspot.com – that gained followers around the globe. The blog not only told of Moss’s condition, but spoke eloquently of the plight of those waiting for transplants and the desperate shortage of organ donors.
Moss had congestive heart failure as a result of an infection when she was a teen. In early April 2010, doctors implanted a ventricular assist device (VAD) to help her weakened heart pump. Her doctors hoped the VAD would support Moss’s heart until a donor heart became available. The morning of April 17, she hovered near death in the cardiothoracic surgery intensive care unit. Her doctors doubted she would survive a transplant. But by the afternoon, Moss began to improve. That evening, a donor heart was found.
After blog posts about the transplant by Moss’s father, and a series of stories about Moss and her blog by KSDK-TV reporter Kay Quinn, the Barnes-Jewish website received as many emails for Moss within days as it typically gets for all patients in a month.
Now, a year after transplant, Moss has returned to work, and still blogs. Everyone involved agrees her story has helped raise awareness for organ donation.
“There are still so many people waiting on the list and we are limited by suitable donors for our patients,” says Gregory Ewald, MD, medical director of heart transplant at Washington University School of Medicine and Barnes-Jewish Hospital. “There are others in the same boat as Megan and wouldn’t be if there were more donors.”
Like many heart-failure patients, Megan Moss needed mechanical circulatory support to survive long enough to get a transplant. More and more heart-failure patients who aren’t candidates for transplant have devices implanted permanently as “destination therapy” to improve their quality of life. Washington University physicians at Barnes-Jewish Hospital are leading experts in implanting and managing patients with support devices ranging from temporary pumps to left ventricular assist devices (LVADs).
A shortage of available donor hearts means the number of LVADs implanted at Barnes-Jewish each year now surpasses the number of hearts transplanted. In 2010, Barnes-Jewish surgeons implanted 55 LVADs, but transplanted only 29 hearts.
“For the first time, we have another viable option for the treatment of severe heart failure,” says Scott Silvestry, MD, former surgical director of heart transplant at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine. “With these devices we can provide years of meaningful therapy to allow patients to return to their lives without the use of immunosuppression.”
The LVAD program is one of the largest in the United States, implanting almost 300 since 2002. Currently, about 80 Barnes-Jewish patients have LVADs; about 50 are waiting for transplants. The rest are not candidates for transplant, and have an LVAD as destination therapy.