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Intermountain Health Heart Transplant Program: 600 stories

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SALT LAKE CITY — Intermountain Health’s Heart Transplant Program recently passed a milestone having performed more than 600 transplants since its start 38 years ago.

“It used to be common for people to die waiting for a heart transplant,” Intermountain Health cardiovascular thoracic surgeon William Caine said. “And now it’s not very common anymore, because we have so many good ways to bridge people through until the donor organ becomes available.”

Intermountain Health thoracic surgeon William Caine credits teamwork for the heart transplant program’s success. (Peter Rosen/KSL TV)

Jessica Leon was one of those 600-plus transplants.

When she was 13 Leon was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, an abnormal thickening of the heart muscle. She grew up, got married and had two kids, and then last year doctors told her she needed a transplant.

Tasks, such as getting the kids to school, became too difficult.

“I was like, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ Like, I tried. I felt like I could do it because I’ve done it my whole life. Like, I always struggled and I was like, pushed through but this time I couldn’t push through,” Leon said.

From desperation to hope

This year she was hospitalized with just months, perhaps Caine said, only weeks to live. At the end of April a heart became available.

“What I noticed is that I don’t have any more chest pain, which is amazing,” Leon said. “Because I’ve had chest pain my entire life.”

Now she talks to her new heart.

“Like, it kind of gives me weird rhythm sometimes when I’m just laying in bed and it wants me to get up,” she said. “So it’s funny, funny relationship that we have.”

“I do know that it’s somebody else’s heart and that they live within you and somehow you know that the heart carries some of their memories,” Leon said.

“It’s a part of me and it’s part of our family and my entire family has said that they will, they will take care of it,” she said. “It’s our family now, whoever this person was.”

Heart transplant surgery at Intermountain Health

This file photo from Intermountain Health shows surgeons performing a transplant. (Courtesy/Intermountain Health)

The power of teamwork

Caine said the key to the program’s success is teamwork. The program’s patients he said are 40% more likely to have positive outcomes than the national average.

“It takes practitioners from many different areas of specialty in order to pull this off successfully,” he said. “And it’s wonderful to be part of a team like that, where everyone pulls together and does everything they can to ensure that our patients have the best possible outcome.”

Get more information on becoming an organ donor by clicking here.

You can also help donate an organ through a paired-exchange program. You can learn more about that program here.

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