Although Patrick Sullivan grew up in Connecticut cheering for the New York Yankees, there will always be a special place in his heart for the Boston Red Sox.
Sullivan, of New Britain, Conn., received a heart transplant at BWH in 2007 after suffering from heart failure for 16 years. These days, he can be found sporting a navy blue Red Sox cap in honor of his donor, Andrew Campbell, who was an avid fan. The hat was given to Sullivan as a special gift from his donor’s mother, Patti Campbell, of Portland, Maine, and Andrew’s two siblings.
“I have a Red Sox heart and a Yankees soul,” Sullivan said. “Whenever I wear my Sox hat, I know Andrew and his family are with me. There aren’t words to express my gratitude to them.”
On Nov. 29, Sullivan and 17 other heart transplant patients – most of whom have been living with a donor heart for two decades or more – gathered to celebrate their milestones. They were joined by family, friends, Brigham staff and the mothers of two organ donors, including Campbell. Hosted by the BWH Heart & Vascular Center, the event, “Heart Transplantation Milestones: Longevity and Experience,” also commemorated the 700-plus heart transplants that have been performed at BWH to date.
“It’s not every day we can come together to celebrate longevity, success, resilience and life – you and your families all represent those things,” said Mandeep R. Mehra, MD, medical director of the Heart & Vascular Center, to the transplant recipients and donor families. “You’re extraordinary.”
‘It Takes a Village’
During the event, Mehra and Michael Givertz, MD, medical director of the Heart Transplant and Mechanical Circulatory Support Program, discussed the history and future of the field. BWH performed the first and second heart transplants in New England in 1984.
The Brigham has also implanted nearly 430 ventricular assist devices, treated more than 13,000 patients with heart failure and introduced many new medications and devices for patients with advanced heart disease. All these achievements are the result of BWH’s culture of excellence in multidisciplinary care, which includes collaboration among Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine; Cardiac Surgery; Cardiology; Nursing; Perioperative Services and others.
“It takes a village to care for our patients,” Givertz said. “Reaching a milestone of performing 700 heart transplants at BWH wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for the teams from several different departments and specialties who come together every day to care for some of our most vulnerable patients. We’re all in this together.”
Throughout the evening, guests, who came from as far as Bermuda, talked about life after transplant. A slideshow of photos that patients and families submitted showed different milestones that they have experienced, such as running a marathon or celebrating the birth of a grandchild, thanks to the gift of a new heart.
David Hirsowitz said that receiving a heart transplant in 1992 has enabled him to celebrate many wedding anniversaries with his wife and watch his children graduate high school and college.
Carol Shay, who received a heart transplant 21 years ago, takes pleasure in the everyday activities she’s able to do: yard work, walks around her neighborhood and, especially, visits with her seven great-grandchildren.
Cardiac surgeon Steve Singh, MD, surgical director of Heart Transplant and Mechanical Circulatory Support, said it was inspiring to be surrounded by so many patients who’ve been given a second chance at life and thrived for so long. While the availability of any donor organ is difficult to predict, hearts are especially rare, he said.
“It is remarkable to see these patients use their precious gift to accomplish so much with their lives and make new, positive memories with their families,” he said. “The history and success of this program is a testament to the dedication of the institution and to the multidisciplinary surgical, ICU and medical teams that have cared for these patients over the past few decades.”
Nurse Practitioner Debbie Page, APRN-BC, was thankful to see many of the patients she’s cared for at the event. She said one of the best parts of her job is staying in contact with her patients and their families. She frequently receives family photos and invitations to birthday parties, weddings and cookouts.
“Being able to care for a patient in a cardiac surgical ICU when I was a younger nurse to seeing a patient thrive post-transplant after more than 20 years is a remarkable thing,” Page said. “That’s what is really important to me – seeing patients reach important milestones and be happy in life. It makes my job so special.”
At the conclusion of the event, Campbell spoke about her experience as the mother of an organ donor.
“I want all recipients to know what a true gift you are. Whether you’ve met your donor family or not, please know that you are thought of every day,” Campbell said. “I know my son would be proud that, in the end, he gave life to those in need. I cannot put into words how much it has meant to my family and I that we were able to meet Patrick and listen to Andrew’s heart beat once again. It’s a moment I will always hold close to my heart.”