Former heart transplant recipients and their families joined physicians, nurses and administrative staff at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla last week to celebrate the hospital surpassing more than 200 of the life-changing procedures.
Nearly 50 former heart transplant patients from the hospital’s heart transplant program gathered on National Organ Donor Enrollment Day last Wednesday, reflecting on their lives before and after surgery and sharing stories of heartache and success.
“It’s a good feeling to have life back when it’s almost taken from you,” said Kim Guinta, a 63-year-old Bridgeport, Conn. resident who had his transplant in 2014 after spending six months in the hospital. “Before every step was an effort, I could barley walk my dog around the block. It’s hard to explain what life is again because I took everything for granted before I was sick. Once you get sick, you don’t know what’s going on.”
Guinta praised the hospital and its staff for treating the program’s patients as individuals.
Since the heart transplant program was launched in 2001, Westchester Medical Center’s Heart and Vascular Institute’s heart transplant program helped the patients by combining clinical expertise and compassionate care.
Dr. David Spielvogel, chief of cardiothoracic surgery and surgical director for heart transplantation, said the medical center’s program often admits patients that are often turned away at other facilities after qualifying as a poor transplant candidate.
“We really tried to find a way to help everyone that came to us,” he said. “I think that was something that made us special.”
The program also has a reputation of providing the best possible outcomes for patients, with higher survival rates and shorter wait times than the national average.
Dr. Alan Gass, director of cardiac, transplantation and mechanical circulatory support, reflected on the level of anguish patients and families feel before surgery. He said it’s extraordinary to see patients given a new lease on life.
“In medicine it’s rare you have a terminal disease, and there’s a solution and (a) transplant is a real solution,” Gass said. “When I look around this room I see people who made it to their kid’s graduation, saw grandchildren born, went back to school, completed marathons. What you can accomplish after a transplant is pretty remarkable.”
Montrose resident Maria Quizhpi was born with pyruvate kinase deficiency, a type of hemolytic anemia. She said her life has dramatically improved since her transplant last December.
“I was always tired, I didn’t want to do anything and I had no energy,” said the 26-year-old Quizhpi. “Now I get to do a lot of things on my own. I’m cooking and I spend a lot of time with my nieces. I’m young and I feel lucky my condition was caught in time. I feel blessed, really truly blessed.