Heart to Heart

1. Chucky gets lucky

2. On bypass

3. New heart pumping

4. Recovery

5. The long runRiddle of R & L3. Stroke of genius?4. Attitudes are a' changin'


At 68, Dick Kreibich, in the hospital for his annual heart exam, sees his heart transplant as "the best move I ever made."















The average heart-transplant recipient lives almost 10 years after the  operation.


New lease on life

Over the long term, heart transplant patients worry that their immune systems will reject the new organ, and they take plenty of meds to prevent rejection. In fact, there are two kinds of rejection -- acute rejection, a massive attack on the new organ, and chronic rejection, which causes thickening of blood vessels around the organ and can lead to organ failure over the long term.

Kreibich smiles at the camera, looking fit and trim.Either type of rejection can kill, but the statistics show that it generally happens slowly, so Chuck Reynolds can look forward to many years of restored health. The average patient lives 9 and a half years after a heart transplant, says surgeon Thomas Starkey, but "There's unlimited potential. Some have lived 25 years after a transplant. I saw one recently who had a transplant 15 years ago ... who said she's had a great 15 years" and is still going strong.

The Why Files talked with Richard Kreibich, 68, who was in University of Wisconsin-Madison Hospital unit for a checkup nine years after his transplant. Looking like a poster-boy for active retirement, Kreibich, of Milton, Wis., says he sold software before being forcibly retired at 54 with cardiomyopathy. "The doctors told me I had six months to live. I looked like I came out of Auschwitz [death camp]."

Kreibich may be retired, but he's hardly retiring. "I walk two miles a day, have a 12-year-old son, a 46-year-old wife, I shoot baskets, I'm a pitching coach for a baseball team."

Heart to heart
Interviewed while Chuck Reynolds was patiently awaiting a new heart, Kreibich alluded to the psychological impact of accepting the heart of a dead person. Some people have refused transplants because they find that notion intolerable, but he says "I don't think about ... the idea that another person's heart is taking the place of yours. I block it out.

Cardiomyopathy forces a simple decision, he adds. "You have two futures. You can sit in a rocking chair and go back and forth. I made a decision not to, went out and got married, I have a beautiful son. Getting the heart was the best move I ever made."

Starkey notes that heart transplant patients can "scuba dive, go parachuting, do just about anything you want do."

As far as Chuck Reynolds is concerned, now that he's back home near Lafarge, Wis., Starkey says, "We encourage him to run or bike. There are several hart transplant patients who've run the Boston marathon. They never win the marathon, but they sure run it and finish it." The high-stress life of the heart-transplant surgeon features middle-of the-night surgeries and repeated confrontation with death. But it's gratifying, Starkey says. "People like Chuck are at the end of the road. It's pretty drastic to have your heart cut out, but your only chance of survival is a new heart... There's no greater thrill in my life than when I'm sewing a heart back in, and take the clamps off, and it immediately starts beating."

Take heart with our transplant bibliography.




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