Contact: Caren Malone
Public Relations Department
Waiting for a Heart Transplant One Day at a Time
There are 348 young adults between the ages of 18 and 34 waiting for a heart transplant, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Organ Procurement and Transplant Network. One of them, 20-year-old Robert Rosaferra Buckley of Fairfield, NJ, is waiting for his donor heart at the Barnabas Health Heart Center at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, the nation’s fifth largest heart transplant program.
“There is no crying in heart surgery,” said Robert a former St. Mary’s High School football player and volunteer linemen coach. “Coach Rob” is also a student at Bergen Community College, where he had to suspend his academics for this new pursuit. Robert’s hospital room resembles a dorm room where friends come to hang out, play video games, watch the Sunday football game and generally help him pass the time 48 days so far.
“Everyone has been wonderful about trying to normalize his life as much as possible while he is here,” said his mother, Terri. She and Robert’s older brother, Chris, have been by his side throughout the ordeal.
How does a young athlete end up in the hospital waiting for a heart transplant? “Teenagers can appear healthy despite the fact that their heart function may be very compromised. They are stable one day and in crisis the next,” explained Mark J. Zucker, MD, JD, Director of the Heart Failure Treatment and Transplant Program at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. “It is likely that Robert was sick for many months, if not longer, before he was aware of it.”
Robert’s heart problems began one night last spring. When he spit up blood, his mother brought him to the Emergency Department at Clara Maass Medical Center, an affiliate of Barnabas Health. His heart stopped that night and he was transferred to Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. The following weeks were a downward spiral. His heart, kidneys, lungs and liver were shutting down.
A left ventricular assist device (LVAD) was implanted to help his heart do the pumping. With the mechanical device in place, Robert’s other organs began to rebound.
Advanced VAD technology allows the devices to be used for several purposes, depending on the patient’s need. A VAD can be a bridge to transplant or destination therapy for people who are not eligible for a transplant because of other non-cardiac health issues. VADs can also be used temporarily to let the heart heal. With the VAD performing most of the pumping action, the heart muscle is allowed to rest and, in a small fraction of cases, even heal completely.
Robert went home with the VAD. Doctors told him they would reevaluate his heart in several months; perhaps it would recover on its own. If his heart didn’t recover, then he would need a transplant.
An Inspiring Young Man
Free from the confines of the hospital, Robert made the most of his month at home. Then a warning alarm sounded on his VAD. Tests showed that a clot had developed in the pump and his heart had grown weaker not stronger as everyone had hoped. In August, Robert joined the more than 3,200 people of all ages in the United States waiting for a heart transplant.
“We knew this might be a possibility, it just happened sooner than expected,” said Robert matter-of-factly. “God has taken something from me, but He’s left my hands open for something else.”
Robert has been an inspiration to others with heart failure at Newark Beth Israel. He makes the rounds, talking with older patients who are contemplating a VAD implant or waiting for a transplant. “It’s about thinking positive and being mentally strong,” reflected Robert. “With the right attitude, you can make yourself better.” He spends part of each day in cardiac rehabilitation to stay as fit and strong as possible so that when he gets a donor heart, his recovery will be quicker.
Heart and Sole Walk
Saturday, October 15, 2011Registration at 10 am, 4K, Walk at 11 am
Verona Park, Verona, NJ
Robert’s family will be participating in this year’s Heart & Sole Walk. Proceeds from the Heart & Sole Walk will help create a renewed healing environment for the Heart Failure Treatment and Transplant exam rooms, reception suite and offices as well as purchase post-transplant medications and equipment to evaluate and treat heart failure patients who come to Newark Beth Israel from all over New Jersey. If you would like to register for the Heart & Walk or sponsor Robert’s team, log on to www.heartandsolewalk.org.
About the Barnabas Health Heart Center at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center
New Jersey residents of all ages have access to one of the nation’s finest and most comprehensive cardiovascular programs that was ranked among the nation’s 50 best in Cardiology and Heart Surgery by U.S .News & World Report’s America’s Best Hospitals for three consecutive years. Highly specialized care includes minimally invasive and robotic-assisted cardiac procedures, state-of-the-art technology that provides astounding images of the heart for more precise diagnosis, and the latest generation of ventricular assist devices designed to take over the pumping action for a diseased heart. Its heart transplant program is the fifth largest in the nation with long-term graft survival rates that consistently exceed national benchmarks. ###