Dr. Charles Shelton, a Lexington psychiatrist, knew there was a history of cardiovascular disease in his family, so he maintained a healthy diet and exercised regularly, but in May 2011, during an elective surgery, he went into complete heart block – where the heart’s electrical system short circuits.
He sought medical care and originally was diagnosed with a rare genetic condition of the heart.
By coincidence, a patient in his Lexington psychiatry practice had received the same diagnosis and encouraged him to seek a second opinion.
Doctors who specialized in the condition at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore suspected Charles instead had cardiac sarcoidosis, a condition that causes tiny clumps of cells to grow on the heart. It ultimately led to heart failure.
Then 49 years old, the husband and father of two teenage boys would need a heart transplant. He returned to Kentucky, researched the only two facilities in the Commonwealth that perform heart transplants, and scheduled an appointment with John C. Gurley, MD, a UK Gill Heart Institute cardiologist who also cared for Charles’ mother-in-law.
Gurley immediately consulted with Navin Rajagopalan, MD, UK’s medical director of cardiac transplant.
“I was impressed by the staff of cardiologists and the treatment team at the Gill Heart Institute,” Charles said. "They have the ability to perform procedures and to do things that only the top institutes in the country are doing.”
Given the severity of his heart failure and the discovery by Gill doctors that he had two large blood clots, Charles received the organ donation wait list’s highest priority designation and entered UK Albert B. Chandler Hospital to wait for a new heart.
“I was impressed by the staff of cardiologists and the treatment team at the Gill Heart Institute.
They have the ability to perform procedures and to do things that
only the top institutes in the country are doing.”
On the morning of Dec. 26, 2011, Charles W. Hoopes, MD, director of the UK heart and lung transplant program, notified Charles a donor heart was available. By 2:30 that afternoon, Charles was in surgery.
Dr. Hoopes performed the four-hour transplant procedure. When Charles woke up and the tube placed in surgery was removed from his throat, he took a deep breath.
“It was amazing to have that feeling, just being able to breathe in,” he said. “I knew I had this new heart. It was a sensation I’ll never forget.”
Three days after his transplant surgery, Charles was up and walking a mile around the UK medical campus. The doctors and nurses on the UK transplant team who provided his expert care say his recovery has been remarkable.
Charles’ recovery included cardiac rehabilitation, an outpatient program that reduces the risk of post-surgery complications and focuses on returning heart patients to a normal life.
“Cardiac rehab is a place to regain an active life with the safety and support of a cardiac care team,” said Alison Bailey, MD, director of the cardiac rehab program at the Gill Heart Institute. “Our nurses, exercise physiologist, dietitians and physicians work together to ensure each patient learns about optimal cardiovascular health while regaining their strength and independence in a safe, monitored environment.”
Since receiving a new heart, Charles said he feels like he has his life back. He’s looking forward to spending as much time as he can with his wife Amy and his sons.
And he’s using his second chance to help others along the way.
He frequently meets with patients at UK who are just beginning the transplant process to share his story and his optimism. And he has even provided feedback to the transplant team about management of psychological issues that go along with receiving a transplant.
Charles maintains a healthy diet and exercises as much as he can.
“I’ve got to take care of this gift I’ve been given,” he said. “I’m going to do all I can to make this heart last.”
Charles will continue to receive blood tests every three months. A year after his transplant surgery, his annual evaluation – which included a right and left heart catheter, an endomyocardial biopsy, an echocardiogram and a chest X-ray – all came back perfect.
He is once again the picture of health.
“It’s unbelievable what medical technology and what a medical team
and an institution can do. I’m a living example of what can be done at UK
and the Gill Heart Institute. I would not go anywhere else.
“It’s unbelievable what medical technology and what a medical team and an institution can do,” he said. “I would not go anywhere else. I’m a living example of what can be done at UK and the Gill Heart Institute.”
View or download printable PDF of Charles Shelton's story (82 KB) »
Heart failure is a condition where the heart can’t pump as much blood as the body needs. It can affect the right side of the heart only, or both sides.
The condition worsens over time as the heart becomes weaker. Heart failure doesn’t mean that the heart stops working, but it is a serious condition requiring medical care.
Kentucky has the fifth-most deaths from heart failure in the nation, according to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
It is possible to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease - by eliminating the risk factors you can control, and managing the risk factors you cannot control. Learn more »
Charles' medical team at the Gill Heart Institute included:
• Alison Bailey, MD, director, Cardiac Rehab Program• John C. Gurley, MD, cardiologist• Charles W. Hoopes, MD, transplant surgeon• Navin Rajagopalan, MD, cardiologist
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