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Combined Heart-Kidney Transplant Offers New Hope (and Hockey)

November 22, 2010

Jonathan Sadowski says that hockey is the best thing that ever happened to him.

Jonathan had his first heart transplant at just 33 days of age. He enjoyed a normal childhood and adolescence filled with school, driving, working and playing hockey. But about a year ago, when his heart complications returned, he had to give up hockey.

“I’d get tired faster than everyone else, and be light-headed and dizzy. My heart was not keeping up. It was a disaster for me to try to do what normal people would do,” says Jonathan, now 20 years old.

Doctors found that Jonathan actually had two failing organs. He had developed transplant coronary artery disease, a rapidly progressing form of heart disease. Also, because of his failing heart and antirejection medication, he had irreversible damage to his kidneys.

Jonathan was placed on a waiting list for a combined heart-kidney transplant for about two-and–a-half weeks before donor organs became available. He was hospitalized at Barnes-Jewish with end-stage heart and kidney failure for most of that time.

When the day of his surgery arrived, Jonathan’s was the first combined heart-kidney transplant performed at Barnes-Jewish—currently the only hospital in the St. Louis region performing heart transplants.

A few years ago, the failure of two organs might have automatically ruled him out as a candidate for transplant. But now Washington University physicians at Barnes-Jewish look at multi-organ transplants as an option for patients like Jonathan, who is young, otherwise healthy and likely to benefit long-term from the procedure, says surgical director of kidney and pancreas transplant, Jason
Wellen, MD. Dr. Wellen performed Jonathan’s kidney transplant the morning after he had undergone his five-hour heart transplant performed by cardiothoracic surgeon I-wen Wang, MD, PhD.

Jonathan was released from Barnes-Jewish 11 days after the completion of his combined heart-kidney transplant. The success of the procedure opens the door for other patients with both heart and kidney failure to have transplants, according to Gene Ridolfi, Barnes-Jewish Transplant Center director. New anti-rejection medications and regimens have also lowered the risk of patients developing organ damage or transplant coronary artery disease.

When asked what he looks forward to most after he completes rehabilitation Jonathan said, “Getting back on the ice and playing hockey!”

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