Transplant helps brother, sister overcome hereditary heart problem
Published Thursday, December 8, 2005
ST. LOUIS (AP) - Not a day goes by that former professional soccer goalie Jim Tietjens of St. Louis doesn’t think about the donated heart in his chest that returned his life to normal.
He knew instantly that life would change for the better in the first groggy moments coming out of surgery at Barnes-Jewish Hospital on Fourth of July weekend 1992. His breathing wasn’t labored but smooth and regular.
"I was overcome with emotion and joy," he recalled. "I asked the nurses, ‘Where’s my family?’ then, ‘Bring me a pen and paper.’ I wanted to communicate how I felt."
Tietjens, 45, and his sister, Laurie Tietjens Kraft, 51, who got a heart transplant in 2001 at Barnes-Jewish, were among dozens of organ recipients, family members and hospital staff celebrating the 20th anniversary of the hospital’s heart transplant program yesterday. The Tietjens’ sister and father died - both at age 31 - of the heart disease that plagued their family.
"I wouldn’t trade" the heart "for anything," Tietjens Kraft said. "It’s been the extension of my life. I’ve been able to see my daughter go off to college, see my son attain the rank of Eagle scout and go off to college."
Barnes-Jewish has performed more than 500 heart transplants since its heart transplant program began in 1985. By sheer numbers, it’s not the largest.
University of California Medical Center in Los Angeles and Presbyterian Hospital in New York, for example, have performed more than 1,400 and 1,500 respectively, since 1988.
But the Barnes-Jewish program is the largest in Missouri. It has gained a reputation for taking on challenging patients who were turned down at other centers and still achieving strong survival rates.
After 20 years, almost half the 500 Barnes-Jewish heart transplant recipients are still alive, including some who received new hearts two decades ago, a hospital spokeswoman said.
The first adult heart transplant in the United States was performed at Stanford University in 1968, a year after South African surgeon Christiaan Barnard performed the world’s first heart transplant.
Since the mid-1980s, with improved immunosuppressant therapies, heart transplant has become the standard treatment for end-stage heart disease, Barnes-Jewish Heart Transplant Surgical Director Nader Moazami said.
Survival beyond 20 years has improved over the last decade with better patient management, monitoring and medicines to prevent organ rejection.
Ninety-five percent of Barnes-Jewish’s heart recipients are alive one year after the transplant; 70 percent after five years; 60 percent after 10 years.
But even as mortality improves, the risk of organ rejection and infection never diminishes, Moazami said.
There are other consequences, too. Transplant patients can develop coronary artery disease with their new hearts, and they are at greater risk for cancer.
Two years ago, Jim Tietjens developed Hodgkin’s disease and underwent 10 months of chemotherapy. He beat that, too.
Recipients on Wednesday also honored their donors and donor families who made the courageous decision to donate. One couple who donated five of their son’s organs - including a heart - anonymously wrote to the recipients in an August 1989 letter that was posted at the celebration.
"Our son always dreamed of doing something heroic in life," they wrote. "Little did he realize that in death he would be the biggest hero."
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