St. Louis’ only heart transplant program reached a milestone in 2010 by celebrating the 25th anniversary of its first transplant. One of the program’s first patients, Nick Belfiglio, received his new heart in December 1985. Today, Belfiglio credits his longevity to the care of the entire Barnes-Jewish Hospital team, his wife’s support, and being proactive about his health.
NICK BELFIGLIO, 80
Heart Transplant Patient, Chesterfield, Mo.
The exceptional team:
My surgeon was a fine doctor, as is Dr. Ewald. He is very pleasant and extremely knowledgeable. I’ve also been fortunate to have a wonderful transplant coordinator, Cindy Pasque, who has been with me since the very beginning. It’s important to have someone you can relate with and trust, like Cindy.
The past 25 years:
I got to see five more grandchildren and 2 more greatgrandchildren. I traveled and went on cruises with my wife. I helped start a transplant support group and met some amazing people I’d never have connected with otherwise. I’ve had a good life.
What to expect:
Anyone with a transplant has to be aggressive in seeking out care. You have to take care of yourself. Keep track of your own medications and test results. If something changes make, your support team is aware of it.
GREG EWALD, MD, 47
Washington University Cardiologist Medical Director, Cardiac Transplant Program
The past 25 years
The surgical techniques we use now are similar to what we used in the past, but the drugs used to prevent rejection and infections have improved over time. We now use mechanical-assist devices that stabilize heart failure and allow patients to wait for longer transplant surgery.
The next 25 years
I think one of the issues is that there aren’t enough donor patients. Whether we’ll get to a place where we can use cells or grow our own organs in the next 25 years, it’s possible. Mechanical devices are getting smaller and more durable so they last longer, and there may come a time where we aren’t so dependent on a donor.
What to expect
For anybody surviving 25 years after any transplant sets them apart. I’ve been Nick’s physician for the past decade or so and he is a great example of someone who has benefited greatly. He takes care of himself; he stays in touch with us and gets his follow-up care. He’s a big part of his own success.