Several years ago I saw a really clever cartoon depicting Secret Servicemen screaming, “Incoming!” while diving on an unsuspecting teen delivering pizza to Dick Cheney. His struggles with heart disease are well known, and on Saturday the former vice president received a new heart, courtesy of an anonymous donor. Refined surgical techniques and the unspeakable generosity of a grieving family have given Mr. Cheney a new lease on life.

Several years ago I saw a really clever cartoon depicting Secret Servicemen screaming, “Incoming!” while diving on an unsuspecting teen delivering pizza to Dick Cheney. His struggles with heart disease are well known, and on Saturday the former vice president received a new heart, courtesy of an anonymous donor. Refined surgical techniques and the unspeakable generosity of a grieving family have given Mr. Cheney a new lease on life.

Heart transplants, what do you know? T or F?

1. About 350 patients die annually waiting for a heart transplant.

2. Most heart transplant recipients return to work.

3. The average age of a recipient is 55-64.

The first heart/lung transplant was performed at Stanford Hospital in 1981 on 45-year-old Mary Gohlke, who lived five years after the surgery and wrote a book about her experience. At the time, many decried the procedure as grossly irresponsible and opined that Gohlke was a guinea pig in a cruel medical experiment.

Today, heart transplants are mainstream, if not routine. The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (www.nhlbi.gov) reports that on any given day about 3,000 are on the waiting list and about 2,000 donor hearts are available annually. According to NHLBI, about 88 percent of patients survive the first year after transplant surgery, and 75 percent survive for five years. The 10-year survival rate is about 56 percent. Fewer than 30 percent of heart transplant recipients return to work.  

The most common reason for heart transplantation is heart failure. This is a condition where the heart simply is not strong enough to pump an adequate volume of oxygenated blood to the body. Heart failure can develop after even one heart attack. Cheney reportedly has had five through the years.

In the Kansas City area, heart transplants are performed at St. Luke’s Hospital. Children’s Mercy Hospital is actively developing their heart transplant program, but currently refers patients to other children’s hospitals for the procedure.

The United Network for Organ Sharing, which oversees waiting lists in the U.S., hopes to register 20 million donors in 2012 through its Donate Life America (www.donatelifeamerica.org) program. Many states allow those interested in becoming donors to indicate their intention on driver’s licenses. UNOS recommends signing a donor card and discussing intentions with family and friends to avoid controversy upon death. All major religions support organ donation.

Cheney’s struggles with heart failure over the past 34 years, his recent decline necessitating a battery powered left ventricular assist device to pump his blood and now the transplant, chronicle the struggles of living with profound heart failure. Cheney has now joined the exclusive family of organ donors and recipients. Brave souls all.

“Incoming!” A welcome reprise for the Cheney family last Saturday.



Answers:  1. T;  2. F;  3. T