Heart Transplant Gives Husband and Father of Three A New Lease on Life

In 2006, Ralph Davis was admitted to a local hospital for a heart attack. Doctors said his condition was too advanced and that he would require specialized care. After being transferred to UMMC for evaluation, Dr. Bartley Griffith diagnosed Davis with idiopathic cardiomyopathy and recommended he be put on the waiting list to receive a heart transplant. Davis underwent surgery to have a LVAD implanted in his heart until a transplant match was found. On June 20, 2007, Davis received the call he had been waiting for; a donor heart was available and he needed to come to the Medical Center as soon as possible to prepare for the transplant. Read his story below.

The Beginning

My experience with the University of Maryland Medical Center began four years ago. What I didn't realize at that time was that it was the beginning of a lifelong relationship. In October 2006, I was an active 53-year- old husband, father of three sons and independent management consultant. I hadn't had any major illnesses and was always on the go. I became very sick, very quickly. I went to my local hospital, and was admitted with myocardial infarction.

The doctors performed a cardiac catheterization and found extreme blockages. I was told I had acute, end-stage heart failure. Stents would not help. I needed surgery and was deemed by their cardiac surgeon to be extremely high risk. I was told there was nothing they could do for me and that I needed specialized treatment.

It was at that time that I was transferred to UMMC where I met Dr. Bartley Griffith and the other members of the transplant team who assessed and subsequently diagnosed me with severe idiopathic cardiomyopathy. I was evaluated to determine my suitability for a heart transplant. I was visited by what, at the time, felt like three-fourths of the hospital staff: cardiologists, cardiac surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurse practitioners, nurses, a dentist, a psychiatrist and a social worker. I had a full array of diagnostic and lab tests. I was also assessed by the LVAD engineer to determine my suitability for LVAD support while awaiting heart transplant. Three days later I was placed on the transplant list, had triple-bypass surgery and had a Jarvik 2000 TM LVAD implanted in my heart. It all happened so quickly. I was scared and fighting to survive. I told the anesthesiologist who consented me at the OR door to be sure to tell everyone in the room to have a great day at work. My life depended on it! From that moment on, I placed my life in the hands of Dr. Griffith, Dr. Erika Feller, and all the many professionals at UMMC.

The Wait

The wait began on October 20, 2006 after recovering from what had been, by all accounts, a very challenging surgery. I recovered in the CSICU on Weinberg 6 for the next two and a half weeks. During the time I recuperated, I was instructed and tested on the operation of my LVAD and educated on my care plan for the waiting period. I received daily physical therapy to help regain my mobility, strength and endurance. I received exemplary care from the nursing staff and the house staff who attended me.

My relationship with the folks at UMMC continued. Every other week, I visited Dr. Erika Feller and Eric Sorensen and nurse practitioner Michael Lindsey in the LVAD clinic. The visits served two important purposes: the first, to monitor my LVAD and my health, and second, to help prepare me for transplant. During the wait, I researched everything possible about heart transplantation, including the procedure, recovery, medications, etc. We would discuss my findings and questions during my office visits. This was a big help in educating and preparing me for what was to come. This was an extremely challenging time and I cannot overstate the importance of the care and counsel I received. They made sure I remained physically and emotionally prepared for transplant, as the call could come at any time.

During this time, I had a few “blips” in my well-being. Each time, Dr. Feller admitted me to the hospital where the staff tested and cared for me and got me “up and around” again. I couldn't have asked for more caring and competent people to look after me during these episodes.

The Transplant

I had settled into doing some work early on the morning of June 20, 2007. At about 7:40 a.m., Dr. Feller called and told me that a heart had been offered and that it was a good match. She told me to arrive at UMMC at noon to prepare. Upon my arrival, I was met by the full team of doctors, nurses, lab techs and everyone else associated with preparing me for transplant. While I was apprehensive, everyone did all they could to make me comfortable and allay my fears. I knew I had the best medical team and had every confidence in that team.

I was taken to the OR at 2 p.m. and was back to my CSICU bed at midnight. From all indications, the transplant team had done an exceptional job with the procedure! When I awoke, I was comfortable (relatively pain free) and ready to begin recovery. Like before, my recovery activities focused on regaining strength, learning about my new heart, learning about my new medications and the importance of the medication regime. The recovery period was surprisingly quick, only about two weeks.

Living Life

July 4, 2007 was my Independence Day in more ways than one. I bid the great people at UMMC farewell and left to begin my new life with my new heart. It has been just over three years and life has been great. I have returned to the activities that I enjoyed prior to my illness. I enjoy time with my family, I work and I travel. I have learned that the ongoing follow-up care provided by the heart transplant team is an important part of my transplant success.

The UMMC heart transplant team is still a big part of my daily life. In the beginning, I visited Dr. Feller and the transplant nurse practitioners every other week. I had bi-weekly right heart biopsies and echocardiograms to ensure that the heart was healthy, functioning properly and that there was no rejection. The team monitored my medications and adjusted medications and doses as necessary. Over time, these visits were reduced to monthly, then quarterly and now semiannually. I have monthly blood work, which monitors my overall well-being. Of course, should I experience a problem, the team is only a phone call away.

I know that I need to be careful about maintaining my health and I am alert for any signs of trouble. I carry the UMMC heart transplant team phone number with me at all times so that, in the event I need them, I can reach them. I subscribe to an online medical registry which is regularly updated to document my procedures, outcomes, medications and health status so that in the event of emergency, my current transplant and cardiac information is available no matter where I am.

I am fortunate to have received the quality of care I did at UMMC. I credit the team and all the extraordinary medical professionals who have cared for and treated me during the past four years.