Sunday: Heart transplant
Monday: Combined double lung and liver transplant
Tuesday and Wednesday: One 12-hour left ventricular assist device procedure each day
Thursday: Two lung transplants and a heart transplant
Friday: Lung transplant
What you're reading is the surgical schedule of the cardiothoracic transplant team at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus for one week in May. For those of you keeping score, that's six organ transplants in six days — including the first-ever combined bilateral lung and liver transplant performed at Mayo Clinic. The team also sprinkled in two left ventricular assist device placements for good measure.
All told, it added up to a record-setting week of life-saving proportions for our cardiothoracic colleagues. Richard Daly, M.D., who oversees it all as director of Mayo's heart and lung transplant service in Rochester, tells us it was far from a typical week. "We've never had a week like that," he says. "For the most part, our transplant volume is totally random. Each one comes along unpredictably. But that week we just kept getting donor organ offers that we thought would work for other patients so we just kept going."
And as he worked to accept the donor organs, Dr. Daly tells us the teams responsible for transplanting them into waiting patients were happy to take on the challenge of a busier-than-usual schedule.
"We have a great transplant team here at Mayo Clinic," Dr. Daly says. "Everyone stepped up and hung in there to get them all done that week. There was never any negativity. As the week went along, everyone just said, 'Wow, another one!' And then they figured out their lives so we could get it done."
Including cardiothoracic transplant specialists Mike Timmons and Paul Henke, who Dr. Daly says were "running around like mad-men" during those six days to make sure every new donor organ he accepted made it back to Mayo Clinic safely and on time. "We're kind of like firemen," Timmons tells us of the three-person organ recovery team he and Henke are members of. "When we get the call, we go. It doesn't matter what time of day it is, or what the weather's like."
That particular week, Henke and transplant surgeons Chaim Leker Locker, M.D., and Vishal Khullar, M.B.B.S.,were essentially plane hopping across the country to make sure they held up their end of the donor organ recovery bargain. "Paul and Drs. Leker Locker and Khullar did most of the recovery work that week while I stayed back and helped in the operating rooms," Timmons tells us. "There was one time where I had to drive out to the airport to swap coolers with him so that he could hand me a pair of lungs and I could give Paul an empty cooler so they could go right back out to get another heart."
It's that kind of dedication that cardiovascular surgeon John Stulak, M.D., tells us made those six days in early May possible. "The events of that week were something very special to see at Mayo Clinic," Dr. Stulak says. "There are so many moving parts to an accomplishment like this, and I couldn't help but to be amazed as I watched everything work out and come together as perfectly as it did. That's a testament not only to our team, but to Mayo Clinic as a whole, that we have the infrastructure and personnel in place to even accommodate a sudden influx of transplant patients like this."
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