Mike Hill went to bed the night before his 54th birthday wondering what kind of cake he might have the next day. A phone call early the next morning changed those plans. Instead of cake, he would be getting a new heart from the transplant team at UK HealthCare.
Mike had a history of heart problems dating back to the 1990s. His first heart attack happened while he was at work, operating a bulldozer. Doctors in his hometown of Hazard, Ky., were able to place two stents in his heart to open a blockage in blood flow.
Another heart attack followed in 2010. That time, it was the type of heart attack known as the “widow maker” because it almost completely blocks the left coronary artery and often leads to death. Doctors in Hazard continued to care for Mike near his home for about a year. But Mike’s heart was getting weaker. He could barely walk from one end of his house to the other without getting short of breath.
His local doctors knew Mike needed a higher level of care. They referred him to specialists at UK HealthCare who would evaluate him for a heart transplant.
“They said my heart was so bad, there was really nothing else they could do for me there,” Mike said. “My doctor in Hazard said he had a friend at UK and could get me in to see him. That’s when I was introduced to the whole UK team.”
In September 2011, Mike met with Navin Rajagopalan, MD, medical director of heart transplantation and director of the UK Advanced Heart Failure Clinic at the UK Gill Heart Institute. Dr. Rajagopalan adjusted Mike’s blood pressure medication and put him on another drug for congestive heart failure that
helps the heart pump. He told Mike he would be a good candidate for a heart transplant because he was otherwise fairly healthy.
Except for regular appointments with his UK HealthCare doctors, Mike returned home to Hazard to wait for a heart donor. About 5 a.m. on Sept. 19, 2013, Mike’s 54th birthday, a nurse from UK called to let him know a heart was on the way.
“We have three grandsons, all boys,” Mike said. “That’s all that was running through my mind, just to be able to get outside and play with them and enjoy life as it was before.”
That afternoon, Mike underwent a five-hour surgery to receive his new heart, which had belonged to a 30-year-old man. Mike’s wife, Claudia, his sister, two daughters and three grandsons heard regular updates from nurses who came out to give them information on Mike’s condition.
Mike said he woke up feeling entirely different than before the surgery.
“I felt like my chest was shaking because I hadn’t had a normal, beating heart in so long,” he said. “My wife put her hand on my chest, and it was just a joy to feel that new heart inside me beating so strongly.”
The day after surgery, Mike was able to get out of bed for a while. On the second day, he walked 1.2 miles through the hospital.
Since receiving his heart transplant, Mike's body hasn't shown any signs of rejecting the new heart. He's back to spending time with his family, and he has returned to one of his favorite activities – riding his Harley-Davidson Sportster motorcycle.
“Every bike I see or hear, I have to stop and look at it,” he said. “They said as soon as I got back home, there’s no limitations to what I could do, as long as I feel OK. I’m ready to go.”
Mike said he’s grateful for his entire care team at UK HealthCare. While he was waiting for his new heart, he especially liked a calendar he received from the UK Transplant Center, which showed a successful transplant patient for each month and described each patient's story.
“Just reading the bios on the calendar would give me incentive not to get discouraged and start feeling sorry for myself,” he said. “I would look at that and think, one day maybe it’ll be me getting a heart.”
For more information on the UK Gill Heart Institute or the UK Transplant Center, call 800-333-8874.
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Heart failure is a condition in which the heart cannot pump enough oxygen-filled blood to meet the needs of the body’s organs. The heart keeps pumping, but not as efficiently as a healthy heart. Learn more »
Mike’s team of providers at the UK Gill Heart Institute included:• Srinivasa Appakondu, MD, Mike's cardiologist at the UK Gill Heart Institute Appalachian Heart Center in Hazard, who referred Mike to UK HealthCare.• David Booth, MD, a Gill Heart Institute doctor who cared for Mike at the Lexington VA Medical Center.• Navin Rajagopalan, MD, the transplant cardiologist, medical director for cardiac transplant and medical director heart failure at the Gill Heart Institute, who managed Mike's care while he was on the transplant list and continues his follow-up care.• Donna Dennis, RN, CCTC, UK Heart/Lung Transplant Coordinator.
• Gill Heart Institute• Advanced cardiovascular imaging• Gill Imaging Center• Heart failure, assist devices and transplants • UK HealthCare, ARH and AHC celebrate partnership in Eastern Kentucky, September 16, 2013
• UK Transplant Center • Heart transplantation • Frequently asked questions
• UK performs Kentucky’s first combined heart-lung transplant in 15 years, November 21, 2012• First Syncardia Total Artificial Heart patient receives transplant, September 5, 2012 • UK first in Kentucky to implant Syncardia Total Artificial Heart, March 5, 2012• “I’ve got a life to live and I’m going to live it,” Grandmother finds relief from congestive heart failure, Making a Difference magazine, Spring 2012 • Mechanical devices can prolong life for those awaiting transplant, Advances & Insights, January 15, 2008 • Transplant patients tell their stories • What is milrinone? Stent placement • Ventricular assist devices
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