UK transplant patient shares emotional bond with family of donor

By early 2016, Conrad Webster was battling to stay alive.

Cardiomyopathy and polycystic kidney disease had destroyed his heart and kidneys, and his health had been deteriorating for nearly a decade. A combined heart-kidney transplant was his only remaining option.

After being turned away by multiple regional transplant centers, he came to the UK Transplant Center, where he was admitted right away and listed for transplant.

In April 2016, West Virginian Tim Maris suffered from pneumonia and a brain hemorrhage that ultimately took his life. Before passing, Tim told his family that he wished to be an organ donor.

Tim’s request saved three lives: One patient received his liver, another received a kidney and Conrad received both his heart and a kidney.

‘I was just so happy to know Tim is still out there’

Working through Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates, Tim’s mother, Evelyn, sent a card to Conrad expressing her desire to meet. They began corresponding via letters and phone calls, and made plans for their families to meet in person at KODA’s Donor Family Recognition Ceremony in Lexington.

Conrad, his wife Leticia, and two of their children drove down from Ohio to meet members of Tim’s family: Evelyn, his sister Penny and brother-in-law Howie, and his nephew, Caleb.

“I couldn’t really get any sleep [the night before],” Conrad said. “My nerves were just built up so much.”

The two families spent several hours chatting before the ceremony, sharing stories and pictures from their lives. Representatives from KODA provided a stethoscope to allow Evelyn, Penny and Howie the chance to hear Tim’s heart beating in Conrad’s chest.

Evelyn says that meeting Conrad and his family provided her with some much-needed closure.

“My heart was about to burst, we were so excited,” she said. “It was a joy. I was just so happy to know Tim is still out there.”

A life-changing experience

For Conrad, Tim’s gift completely changed his life. After years of chronic illness, he’s able to do things he never thought he’d have the chance to do again, like travel, prepare his youngest daughters for college and meet his grandchild.

And last October – just six months after receiving his transplant – Conrad and Leticia got married in Florida after 11 years together.

Because of their experiences, members of both families have decided to become organ donors themselves.

“Someone saved my husband, and kids’ father,” Leticia said. “Why not join Donate Life to help another family or multiple families in need?”

Becoming an organ donor

Although hospitals are obligated by law to identify potential donors and inform families of their right to donate, anyone can sign up to become an organ donor by joining the Kentucky Organ Donor Registry. The registry is a safe and secure electronic database where a person’s wishes regarding donation will be carried out as requested.

To join the registry, visit www.donatelifeky.org or sign up when you renew your driver’s license. The donor registry enables family members to know that you chose to save and enhance lives through donation. Kentucky’s “First Person Consent” laws mean that the wishes of an individual on the registry will be carried out as requested.

UK Transplant Patient Thankful to Meet Donor Family from University of Kentucky on Vimeo.

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Listen: UK at the Half discusses exciting KCH partnership

Dr. James Quintessenza, chief of pediatric cardiothoracic surgery at UK HealthCare, and Dr. Scottie Day, interim chair of the UK Department of Pediatrics and physician in chief at Kentucky Children’s Hospital, were featured during “UK at the Half,” which aired during the UK vs. Utah Valley basketball game radio broadcast on Nov. 10.

The doctors talked about UK’s new partnership with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital that will offer the best pediatric heart care in the area.

“UK at the Half” airs during the halftime of each UK football and basketball game broadcast and is hosted by Carl Nathe of UK Public Relations and Marketing.

To hear the latest episode, click on the play button below.


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UK dean’s outstanding research recognized by the American Heart Association

The American Heart Association (AHA) awarded its Population Research Prize for 2017 to Donna K. Arnett, dean of the UK College of Public Health and professor of epidemiology, “for insightful research successfully blending the basic molecular sciences with population studies to produce a highly relevant new understanding of major aspects of cardiovascular disease including risk prediction, hypertension and heart failure.”

Arnett received the prize during Sunday’s opening of the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2017, a premier global exchange of the latest advances in cardiovascular science for researchers and clinicians, which was held at the Anaheim Convention Center in California. The annual prize honors important studies of cardiovascular disease patterns in populations.

“Throughout her praise-worthy career, Dr. Arnett has worked to integrate molecular science with population studies, using her extensive training in both disciplines, to produce broadly relevant results for the health of the public,” said Dr. John Warner, president of the AHA.

“Her personal success is evident in both her publication record and her funding,” he noted. “She has published more than 500 peer-reviewed reports in high-impact journals in multiple fields, including seminal work she has led identifying genetic biomarkers and in risk prediction, hypertension, heart failure, imaging and methods development.”

Arnett also has played a key role in the development of the population research portfolio of the AHA, where she served as a bridge between the population and molecular research communities.

“Her many years of service have included time as a high-profile role model for population research during her presidency of this association, in 2012-2013,” Warner said.

An NIH-funded researcher for 20 years, Arnett studies genes related to hypertensive disorders and organ damage that results from hypertension. She has published more than 450 peer-reviewed papers and two books.


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heart stents study

Don’t overreact to new study on heart stents, say UK cardiologists

Dr. Adrian Messerli

Dr. Adrian Messerli

Written by Dr. Adrian Messerli and Dr. Khaled Ziada, interventional cardiologists at the UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute.

A recently released study once again shines the spotlight on heart stents, a procedure performed more than 600,000 times per year in the United States.

In effect, the study raises real concerns that stent placement for the treatment of activity-related chest pain (angina) is no better than treatment with medications alone.

Dr. Khaled Ziada

Dr. Khaled Ziada

Given the relatively high prevalence of heart disease in our society, this study is understandably getting a lot of attention. Already, we have received quite a few inquiries from patients and their loved ones who are concerned and perhaps somewhat confused.

Here’s what it all means:

What the study said

A group of respected British cardiologists conducted the study on 200 patients with angina and who had a severe blockage in one of their coronary arteries.

All patients were on high-quality medication treatment. The researchers then compared stent placement in one-half of these patients with a simulated sham procedure in the other half of the patients.

After six weeks, there were no significant differences in patient-reported improvement of symptoms or exercise ability in either group.

This study is receiving considerable scrutiny. It was rigorously designed and undertaken with great care. Even so, it has very important limitations.

Understanding the study’s limitations

First, and perhaps most importantly, this study does not pertain to patients who have suffered a heart attack. We know for a fact, based on the findings of numerous studies, that when someone is having or has recently had a heart attack, placing a stent to open up a blocked artery is clearly the treatment of choice.

In these situations, a stent is frequently lifesaving and may improve longstanding quality of life.

Second, this study was conducted in a small sample of lower-risk patients with good heart function, mild symptoms and blockages in one artery only.

So the results do not necessarily apply to higher-risk individuals with more severe angina, those with blockages in multiple arteries or those whose heart function was abnormal to begin with.

In these patients, stenting or even bypass surgery can reduce symptoms considerably, and possibly even protect against future heart attacks or worsening heart failure.

Third, the study followed patients for six weeks.

In a larger study published in 2007 on similar patients with activity-related angina who were treated with medications only, most patients did well, but about one-third of them eventually required a stenting procedure or surgery when followed for four to five years.

What do patients need to know?

If you have already had a stent placed, know that you are not in any new danger. In fact, current-generation stents are remarkably safe and durable. If you or your loved ones happen to suffer a heart attack, you should be aware that in this circumstance, stents are ideal.

If you experience new symptoms of angina, you should consult your primary care doctor or a cardiologist. If the symptoms are not severe or very frequent, your doctor will likely prescribe a number of medications, possibly order additional testing and then monitor the situation.

Frequently, the medication regimen will reduce or eliminate angina. If a heart catheterization or stent placement is recommended, it is entirely reasonable to ask careful questions, ensure you are on appropriate medications and get a second opinion.

Finally, it is important to remember that chest pain is a symptom, not a condition.

The underlying disease, coronary atherosclerosis, is best treated with aggressive risk-factor modification, including tobacco cessation, a healthy diet, regular exercise and stress management.

We have known for many years that, in a stable patient, stents do not reduce future risk of heart attacks or death. Rather the emphasis should be medication therapy and, even more importantly, lifestyle measures.

The problem of overuse of stents in stable patients with angina has improved significantly over the last decade, but there is no doubt that there is room for further improvement.

When used appropriately, this procedure has a validated and critical role in the treatment of heart disease. We have placed several thousand stents over our careers, and have seen firsthand the benefits for many of our patients in Kentucky.

So for now, let us not overreact to the results of this small trial, and accidentally throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater.


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Eat more plants for a healthier heart, says UK’s Dr. Gretchen Wells

Dr. Gretchen Wells

Written by Dr. Gretchen Wells, director UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute’s Women’s Heart Health Program

Most people don’t realize that the power to prevent many diseases is in their own hands.

By exercising – even a little – and quitting smoking, you greatly reduce your risk for diabetes, heart disease and even dementia. But perhaps the easiest way to tip the odds in your favor is to change your diet. If you’re looking for a way to eat healthier, consider a plant-based diet.

A plant-based diet is based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. It excludes or minimizes meat, eggs and dairy products, as well as highly processed foods like bleached flour, refined sugar and some oils.

Numerous studies have linked a plant-based diet to lower risks of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease – as much as 30 percent, according to one Harvard study.

Don’t know where to begin? Here are some guidelines:

  • Veggies: Any vegetable, especially leafy green or yellow vegetables with high water content.
  • Fruits: No limits here, but deeply colored berries are a plus.
  • Starches: This includes starchy vegetables like potatoes as well as whole grains like oats, rice or quinoa.
  • Beans and legumes: These are starchy, but generally have a higher protein content. Consider beans, lentils and dried peas.
  • Nuts and seeds: Use sparingly to avoid weight gain.

You can adjust slowly to a plant-based diet. Adopt the popular “Meatless Mondays” trend in your home and add Tuesday, Wednesday, etc. as you go. Or experiment by adjusting your favorite recipes to be plant-based: make your chili all beans, or prepare a stir-fry with tofu or edamame instead of chicken.

Heart-healthy cooking demo at UK HealthCare

If you want some ideas, come to UK HealthCare on Saturday, Nov. 18, for “Feeding Your Heart and Soul” featuring best-selling cookbook author Jane Esselstyn. Esselstyn, who has spent most of her life advocating for a plant-based, meatless, whole-food diet, will demonstrate recipes from The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook, which she co-authored with her mother, Ann. You’ll also get the opportunity to taste some of her dishes and see for yourself that a plant-based diet can be healthy and delicious.

The morning will begin at 8 a.m. with an optional free yoga session. Esselstyn will take the stage for a brief lecture at 9 a.m., followed by a cooking demonstration at 10 a.m. and tastings at 11 a.m.

The registration fee for “Feeding Your Heart and Soul” is $15 and includes a free copy of The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook and tastings.

For more information or to register, call 859-218-0121.


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Priscilla Riley

After a lifetime of heart problems, clinical study makes all the difference for Manchester woman

As a small child, Priscilla Riley, now 70, had rheumatic fever that damaged her heart.

Her heart problem meant she could not run and play with other children, she says sadly. She could only watch from the sidelines.

Her heart problem became something she just lived with, making adjustments as she could.

In 1993, she had open-heart surgery to replace two of her heart valves. Recovery was difficult: Riley spent several weeks in the hospital and two months recovering. But the surgery was successful and for a while, she felt better.

Gradually, though, the problems returned. One of the replaced valves was leaking. Riley began suffering from congestive heart failure – a potentially life-threatening condition in which the heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. Fluid builds up in the lungs making it difficult to breathe.

Her congestive heart failure would get worse and worse until finally, she would need a trip to the hospital. At one point, doctors removed 60-70 pounds of fluid from Riley’s body. She’d feel better, but then the fluid would begin to build up again. It was a cycle that happened over and over.

Finding the right care at UK

Because of her age and her previous surgery, Riley was not a candidate for traditional surgery. Doctors feared she would not survive.

Riley’s doctor at Manchester Hospital asked her to go to the Adult Congenital Heart Clinic at UK, but Riley said no.

“I’m stubborn,” she said, with a twinkle in her eye.

But by April of this year, Riley was so ill it looked like she might not make it. That’s when she came to UK and met Dr. Andrew Leventhal, an interventional cardiologist at the Adult Congenital Heart Clinic, part of the UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute.

Leventhal is a co-principal investigator on a study of a new replacement heart valve called the Sapien 3, and he realized Riley might be a candidate.

The trial, known as COMPASSION 3, tests the efficacy of the Sapien 3 valve as a replacement for a diseased pulmonary valve. The Sapien 3 has already been approved for replacement of the aortic valve.

“The COMPASSION Trial is an excellent example of new technology that will help bridge the gap for adults with congenital heart disease who still need specialized follow-up care,” said Leventhal.

Instead of open-heart surgery, the replacement valve is inserted through a vein in the patient’s leg and threaded up to the heart. The incision in Riley’s leg required only a single stitch.

‘I feel so much better’

The procedure went exactly as doctors had hoped, and Riley was on her way home two days later.

“If it hadn’t been for a small problem with her blood pressure being low, a problem she’d had before this procedure, she could have gone home the very next day,” said her friend and pastor Anthony Lovett, who accompanied Riley to the procedure.

“It still blows my mind,” Lovett said. “The recovery was minimal – no recovery, really. Get her blood pressure regulated and head on home, no problem.”

And unlike the open-heart surgery she had in 1993, Riley felt better almost immediately.

Months after her surgery, she continues to do very well. She feels 100 percent better, she said, and is able to do things she could not do before. The valve completely fixed the leak.

“I’m cooking again,” she said. “I wasn’t able to cook before. And I help my son with his laundry.”

When she talks to Dr. Leventhal, tears fill her eyes.

“How are you feeling?” he asks.

“I’m good,” she tells him. “I feel so much better.”

Priscilla Riley

Priscilla Riley talks with Dr. Andrew Leventhal at a recent appointment.


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UK team aims to create software that predicts your heart’s future

Picture this: you’re battling heart failure and meeting with your doctor to discuss treatment. Before prescribing anything, the doctor pulls up a virtual model of your heart on her computer and “treats” it with several drugs. A few moments later, she can see how your heart is doing five years down the road.

Your doctor chooses the treatment with the best long-term outcome, and you live a longer and healthier life.

Two UK researchers are working to make this experience a reality for the 5.7 million adults in the U.S. with heart failure.

Combining physiology and engineering, UK researchers Kenneth Campbell and Jonathan Wenk are developing computer software to deliver better therapies for patients with life-threatening heart failure. The National Institutes of Health recently awarded the team a $3 million five-year grant to create a computer model of the heart that can be customized to individual patients and predict long-term results.

“If you gave a patient a drug, how would their heart beat in the next second? Folks are pretty good at predicting that, but we’re trying to predict how their heart will grow over months and years after taking a pill or having a genetic mutation,” said Campbell, associate professor of physiology and cardiovascular medicine.

Collaboration leads to innovation

The computer model would take MRI or genetic data of a patient and build a multiscale simulation of their heart, leading to more personalized treatment plans. The model could also serve as a screening tool for scientists and drug companies who are trying to develop new therapies.

“This model will have tremendous predictive power, meaning it will change and adapt in response to treatment or disease,” said Wenk, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and Gill Professor in Engineering. “For doctors, this is another tool that could guide them in their decision process.”

Only a handful of teams in the world are working in this area, and few are as collaborative. With Wenk’s engineering skills and proficiency in organ-level function and Campbell’s expertise in medicine and molecular-level function, they are among the first – if not the first – to incorporate the effects of genetic mutations into a model of the heart.

Understanding genetic heart conditions

The team, which includes collaborators at Michigan State University and Pennsylvania State University, will specifically aim to better understand familial hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a genetic mutation and the most frequently inherited heart defect that affects about 700,000 Americans.

“This is when the college sports athlete suddenly goes into cardiac arrest on the field with no warning,” Campbell said.

The defect often causes the heart to enlarge over time. The computer model will enable the researchers to test how and why certain genes are causing the heart to grow. And if they understand this, they will be able to intervene in that pathway and potentially reverse the abnormal growth.

The computer technique is virtually the same used for classic engineering applications, such as simulating a bridge or a car crash.

“Whether it’s a heart or a piece of steel, as long as we understand their governing equations, we can harness them to develop a better design,” Wenk said.

More powerful together

Both researchers say they can do more together than either can do by themselves, and UK offers a unique environment for collaboration and success.

Campbell works closely with clinicians at UK HealthCare and the UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute, which is among the top 10 programs with the most heart transplants performed in the U.S. Wenk – in addition to working with physiologists and biophysicists – is the only engineering faculty member to hold a joint appointment in UK Department of Surgery, where he applies engineering concepts to surgical approaches.

With this project and others, the researchers are aiming to develop a top-tier computational cardiology team at UK – because if computers can be used to model better bridges, they can be used to model healthier hearts.


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Author of heart-healthy cookbook to speak at UK on Nov. 18

Popular cookbook author Jane Esselstyn is coming to UK HealthCare on Nov. 18 for a lecture and cooking demonstration about the benefits of a plant-based diet for heart disease prevention.

Esselstyn, a former health educator, has spent most of her life advocating for a plant-based, whole-food diet. A collection of her recipes is featured in The Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease Cookbook, which she co-authored with her mother, Ann.

The event is part of the UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute Women’s Heart Health Program’s “Feeding Your Heart and Soul” initiative. Dr. Gretchen Wells, the program director, is an enthusiastic voice in the campaign to reduce the incidence of heart disease in Kentucky.

Numerous studies have linked a plant-based diet to lower risks of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease – as much as 30 percent, according to one Harvard study, Wells said. Plant-based doesn’t mean vegetarian, however: Smaller amounts of lean meats such as chicken or fish are OK.

“One of our missions at the Gill is to educate Kentuckians about lifestyle and encourage them to make changes that reduce their risk for heart disease,” Wells said. “Jane can provide them the tools to live healthier lives, so bringing her to Lexington was a logical fit.”

The event takes place in the UK Albert B. Chandler Hospital Pavilion A Auditorium and will kick off at 8 a.m. with an optional free yoga session. Esselstyn will take the stage for a brief lecture at 9 a.m., followed by a cooking demonstration at 10 a.m. and tastings at 11 a.m.

Some of the recipes Esselstyn will be demonstrating include: kale bruschetta, corn muffins with jalapenos and salsa, chocolate-raspberry mango parfait, smoky little devils (a healthy take on deviled eggs), and several salad dressings. Samples of most recipes will be available for tasting following the demonstration.

The $15 registration fee includes the tastings and a copy of her Esselstyn’s cookbook.

Registration ends Nov. 10 and is limited to the first 125 people. Free parking is available in the UK HealthCare parking garage at 110 Transcript Ave., directly across South Limestone from Chandler Hospital.

To register, contact Karen Michul at Karen.Michul@uky.edu or call 859-218-0121.


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flu shot heart

A flu shot may protect your heart, says Gill Director Dr. Susan Smyth

Dr. Susan Smyth

Dr. Susan Smyth

Written by Dr. Susan Smyth, the medical director of the UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute.

Flu season is here, which means it’s time to get your flu shot.

It’s common knowledge that the flu vaccine prevents the misery of influenza and helps protect vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, young children and the chronically ill.

But did you know that getting a flu shot might also prevent a heart attack or stroke?

The flu can be dangerous, even deadly

Influenza, or the flu, is a highly contagious respiratory viral infection easily spread from person to person when people with the flu cough, sneeze or talk. Flu can cause high – sometimes dangerous – fevers as well as chills, sore throat, cough, congestion, muscle or body aches, and headaches. Some people, commonly children, may also have vomiting and diarrhea.

And flu can be dangerous: according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 49,000 flu-related deaths occur each year.

How a flu shot might help those with heart problems

While anyone can have complications from the flu, people with cardiovascular problems are at higher risk to develop them, which can lead to respiratory failure, pneumonia, heart attack and/or stroke, and can also worsen pre-existing conditions like heart failure, diabetes or lung disease, including asthma.

A study published in the prestigious medical journal JAMA found that getting a flu vaccine reduced the risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure or other major cardiac events – including death – by about a third over the following year.

It’s possible, although not yet proven, that flu increases the risk of a clot forming in blood vessels and/or that flu virus can provoke inflammatory changes in the blood vessels that contribute to heart attacks.

Help prevent the spread of flu

The best way to prevent influenza is to get vaccinated every year. The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get a flu vaccine every fall. While most people have no side effects from the vaccine, some people might develop a mild fever, muscle aches or mild arm soreness.

Although some people claim that the flu vaccine actually causes the flu, this is simply not true.

Everyday preventive actions, such as avoiding close contact with infected people, covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, and frequent handwashing are also recommended to help reduce the spread of germs that cause the flu.

It is important to remember that the more people who get vaccinated against the flu, the fewer people who are likely to have it. By lowering your own risk you are also lowering the risk for those around us – your children, your grandchildren, your coworkers and friends.

And finally, if you have a higher risk for heart attack or stroke, talk to your doctor about whether a flu vaccine is a wise choice for additional, potentially life-saving protection.


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Dr. Ken Campbell

UK physiologist runs 5k for 1,000 straight days to support heart care

On Saturday, Aug. 26, a crowd gathered to watch Dr. Ken Campbell run his 1,000th 5k in as many days. About 20 people joined Dr. Campbell on his run to help celebrate his achievement.

Dr. Ken Campbell

Dr. Ken Campbell

Campbell, a UK physiologist and researcher, began his running streak on Dec. 1, 2014, and has run at least five kilometers each day since then. He has logged miles through days of work, travel and sickness. He has continued his streak on the UK campus, in his neighborhood in Lexington, and around the world, including Australia, Britain, Mexico and New Zealand. When there was no other option, he ran on a treadmill in the Johnson Center.

Raising money for patient groups and research

It all began as a way to raise awareness and funds for UK HealthCare’s ventricular assist device (VAD) and transplant support group and the Campbell Muscle Laboratory.

Through his research, Campbell has developed a relationship with Heart to Heart (the UK HealthCare Cardiothoracic Transplant/VAD Support Group), which offers support to patients and families of patients who have undergone a heart transplant or the implantation of a VAD. VADs are mechanical pumps that support blood flow in weakened hearts. Donations to Campbell’s cause benefit both the patient support group and student-driven research at the Campbell Muscle Lab.

Campbell’s running highlights the importance of the work he and his team are doing. His group at the Campbell Muscle Lab study the causes of cardiac failure, and his run streak will also help raise money for important research that benefits heart patients at UK.

Ending the amazing streak

After 1,000 days, Campbell is ending his run streak. He will no longer feel the need to rise at 3 a.m. on travel days or go out in the rain just to make sure he gets a run in.

“I’m really pleased at the turnout we had today,” he said after his run on Saturday. “We had this mixture of scientists and clinicians from all levels, from lab staff to the chief of Cardiovascular Medicine. We’re all coming together to push forward research and the care of our patients.”

Dr. Ken Campbell and his supporters

Dr. Ken Campbell and a group of supporters celebrate his 1,000th consecutive day running five kilometers.


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