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Successful Transplant for person with "Enlarged Heart"


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Bucky Engineer by Education, Self Professed Expert in Nothing Find out more about Bucky
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  • Successful Transplant for person with "Enlarged Heart"

    From the "Arizona Daily Star", Tucson's only Daily Newpaper, May 19, 2009
    Operation performed at the University of Arizona Medical Center a Center of Excellence for Heart Transplants.

    He was supposed to be having an aortic valve replacement in Las Vegas. But Chuck Besen woke up after surgery to find himself in Tucson — without a heart. And Besen's long medical journey had only begun.

    After living with a total artificial heart for nearly six months, the 45-year-old bar and restaurant manager on March 27 underwent a heart and kidney transplant at University (of Arizona) Medical Center. He also made medical history. Both his heart surgeon and the Tucson-based makers of the artificial heart believe it's only the second such transplant to occur in the world.
    Dr. Jack G. Copeland, a world-renowned cardiovascular surgeon, said Besen will stand out as a "landmark" case in his more than three-decade career. Initially he was hesitant to do the surgery, but there were few options. Besen's kidneys had been failing ever since he arrived at UMC in October, and though doctors had been hopeful they'd come back, it wasn't happening.

    "Finally, we just decided to give this a shot because there's no way to get this guy home. He's got a family, he's got a baby, he wants to change his life," Copeland said. "We needed to take some risk here in order to get from point A to point B. And if he was willing to take the risk, we felt like we should help him with that."

    Copeland said there was a chance Besen wouldn't survive the surgery — but he couldn't give him exact odds because the surgeries haven't been done often enough. "When we sit down and write down what were the landmark cases in our program, he would certainly be one of them," he said. "The fact that he did so well makes me hopeful. In biology and surgery if something works once, chances are it will work again. . . . In the right situation I think it would work again for sure."

    All Besen knows at this point was that he received his heart and kidney from the same donor, who had been a healthy young person. There's a chance through the organ-donor network that Besen will one day find out about his donor and thank the family — something he'd like to do.
    Besen, fiancee Jennifer Hokanson and their 15-month-old son, Dylan, now live in Tucson. Moving had not even occurred to them until last fall, when their lives permanently changed.

    Besen, who is a thyroid-cancer survivor, had been having night sweats last fall, and, at Hokanson's urging, went to see a doctor. The doctor found that he had a leaking aortic valve and an enlarged heart. On Oct. 20, he went in for an aortic valve replacement at Desert Springs Hospital in Las Vegas, and neither he nor Hokanson was terribly worried.

    But something went wrong. After the valve was replaced, his heart wouldn't start beating again. Since a donor heart wasn't immediately available, Besen was flown by air ambulance to the nearest total-artificial-heart-certified hospital, which was his only chance at survival.
    "I came to without a heart"

    He ended up at University Medical Center, where he received a total artificial heart made by a company in Tucson called SynCardia Systems. All Besen can remember from the ordeal is waking up several weeks after the surgery.
    "I came to without a heart. My mom was in the room, and Dylan was twice his size. There were pictures all over the walls," Besen said.
    Hokanson now describes the experience as surreal. She wound up hospitalized briefly after Besen's surgery when her lung collapsed, and then moved into temporary housing while holding vigil for Besen and taking care of their son.
    "We pretty much lived at the hospital," she said. "We wanted him to get a donor heart because the longer you are on the artificial heart, the greater your chance of stroke or infection. . . . Several times I just came home and cried."
    But Besen's kidneys were failing, and doctors wanted him to wait for them to get healthy again. However, they never did, and Besen was finally placed on a waiting list for both a heart and a kidney.
    Starting over

    The 6-foot-tall Besen has dropped from 235 to 170 pounds and is still getting his strength back. As he ate pancakes last week in the North Side home the family is renting, he alternated between playing with his son and the family's Chihuahua.
    The family is starting over in Tucson, a place they will always associate with saving Besen's life, they said.
    Besen and Hokanson liquidated virtually all their property — they are now selling their truck — to help pay expenses during his hospital stay. The couple had insurance, which covered the transplant. But now that Besen is no longer working and their assets are so depleted, they have enrolled in the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, the state's form of Medicaid.

    Hokanson, who gave up a longtime career in bar and restaurant services to care for Dylan, is planning to go back to school to become a nurse while Besen recovers at home. He's still going to UMC three times a week for follow-up care.
    "Our priorities have changed," Hokanson said. "We went from worrying about paying bills to hoping Chuck would walk out of the hospital. A lot of it is attitude and will."

    The two main threats for Besen right now are infection and rejection.
    "The biggest risk early on is failure of the transplanted heart, and if that fails, the kidney will fail for sure," Copeland said.
    Besen now keeps a daily journal of his vital signs, recording his blood sugar, blood pressure and temperature, and is on heavy doses of anti-rejection medication.

    Not a day goes by when he doesn't think about how fortunate he is, and how grateful he feels to be able to live with his family again.
    "I'm sure I'll be able to work eventually, but for now I'm going to be at-home Daddy for Dylan," Besen said. "We went from having a lot of bad things happen to turning a corner. We're starting over, but we get to be together."
    Last edited by Bucky; 05-20-2009, 12:40 AM.
    Diagnosed in June 2007, Pacemaker Oct 2007, Myectomy in Feb 2009 at Cleveland Clinic, Two daughters, both checked with Ultrasounds in 2008, all OK so far. Two grandchildren both check with Ultrasounds and all is OK to date. OH YES....Harry, the Doggie, says Hi also. sigpic

  • #2
    Re: Successful Transplant for person with "Enlarged Heart"

    This is quite a story.

    Diagnosed in 1977, Myectomy in 1981 @ Mayo Rochester
    ICD&Pacemaker 1996
    Heart transplant March 19, 2004 @ Mayo Rochester
    Mom of Kaye.


    • #3
      Re: Successful Transplant for person with "Enlarged Heart"

      Now that was an amazing story.

      Diagnosed 2003
      Myectomy 2-23-2004
      Husband: Ken
      Son: John diagnosed 2004
      Daughter: Janet (free of HCM)

      Grandchildren: Drew 15,Aaron 13,Karen 9,Connor 9


      Today's Birthdays