Phyllis Weissblum, 74, needed a heart transplant, but the hospital where she was an inpatient said she was too old to get one. “So I said, ‘Are you sending me home to die?’” says Weissblum, a retired teacher from Monroe Township, New Jersey.
Instead, a doctor reached out to Alex Reyentovich, MD, medical director of the heart transplant program at the NYU Langone Transplant Institute. Weissblum was transferred to NYU Langone, and after just two days on the wait list, received a new heart. Now she’s back to acting in community theater and enjoying retirement with her husband, Larry.
Weissblum’s case is the rule rather than exception at the Transplant Institute, which has been named the nation’s top heart transplant program twice in a row, based on data published by the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients (SRTR). The program’s mission is to find a way to help patients with heart failure receive a lifesaving transplant, regardless of the complexity of the case, the patient’s age, or the severity of illness.
“Our motto is ‘Transplant first as an option,’” says Nader Moazami, MD, surgical director for heart transplantation and mechanical circulatory support, meaning that a transplant, if viable, is the best therapy for end-stage heart failure. That guiding philosophy explains why retired NYPD officer John Callaghan, 61, was able to get a new heart at NYU Langone when another center deemed him too sick and isolated to care for himself, and how Sheila Connors, 54, rejected for a transplant elsewhere, received a heart and lung transplant that restored her to good health following 16 years on supplemental oxygen 24/7.
NYU Langone finds donor hearts faster than any other center in the Northeast, per SRTR data, due in part to its innovative protocol for accepting and later treating otherwise healthy organs infected with hepatitis C. “We also work harder than anyone else, getting on an airplane and looking at an organ that another center has turned down and deciding ourselves whether we can make it work,” says Robert Montgomery, MD, director of the NYU Langone Transplant Institute.
Yet this more inclusive approach to selecting donor organs hasn’t adversely affected outcomes: the Transplant Institute has the highest 1-year survival rate among heart transplant patients in the Northeast, at 98.44 percent, and the best outcomes among multi-organ transplants in the United States. Those numbers are a testament to the dedication of a transplant team that includes Claudia G. Gidea, MD, associate medical director of the heart transplant program, and Deane E. Smith, MD, associate surgical director of heart transplant and mechanical circulatory support. “Everyone makes you feel like they have such a stake in you, that it’s very personal to them,” says Weissblum.