Louisville man receives heart, kidney transplants at UK HealthCare

He pushed through a failing heart for a decade, determined to avoid undergoing a transplant. But in the past year, 49-year-old Conrad Webster knew his time was almost up.

The stoic Louisville resident and Operation Desert Storm veteran, who was used to showing no weaknesses, was ready to seek serious help.

“I was getting scared because I was just getting so sick,” he said. “I was sick all the time, it just drained me.”

Diagnosed with cardiomyopathy – thickening and weakening of the heart muscles – in 2006, Webster spent the next several years managing the disease with medications. As his condition worsened, he experienced transient ischemic attacks (mini-strokes) from blood clots around his neck and heart.

Complicating matters further, Webster had also inherited polycystic kidney disease unrelated to his heart problems. This condition causes the kidneys to fill with cysts and ultimately fail. He began going in for dialysis three times a week, ultimately receiving medication for his heart during these trips as well.

In March, Webster’s problems came to a head when he collapsed at his fiancee’s house in Cincinnati, complaining of a severe headache.

“I couldn’t stand up,” he said. “I think I was crashing.”

As his daughters held him up, his fiancée, Leticia Willis, called 911 and he was rushed to a local community hospital. But Webster needed both a heart and kidney transplant, and dual organ transplants aren’t performed at every transplant center. After being turned away at three different regional transplant centers, Webster’s sister contacted UK’s transplant coordinators and he came in for an evaluation.

“Nothing seemed to work,” Willis said. “We were happy to come here. We were ready to try anything.”

At UK, he was evaluated by members of both the heart and kidney transplant teams. Due to the severity of his medical issues, Webster says UK cardiothoracic transplant surgeon Dr. Alexis Shafii told him he needed to be admitted right away.

“Dr. Shafii looked at me and said, ‘You’re not gonna leave here today,’” Webster said. “He said I probably wouldn’t have made it back home.”

On April 11,  he was listed for transplant, holding a spot high on the waiting list.

Many patients endure a lengthy hospital stay once they’re listed for transplant, but Webster’s wait was surprisingly short – just three weeks after he was admitted, and only a week of being listed for transplant, he learned that doctors had found a compatible donor. Willis, a nurse who works night shift, had returned to Cincinnati to work when she got a call from Webster to come back to UK.

“He called me and said, ‘You have to get back right away, they have a donor,’” she said. “He was talking so fast and crying, I could barely understand him.”

On April 18, around 2 a.m., Webster officially received his new heart, while his kidney was transplanted about 12 hours later. Following heart transplants, patients are usually encouraged to become mobile, often walking laps with assistance around the cardiovascular intensive care unit on the 8th floor of UK Chandler Hospital’s Pavilion A. A few days after Webster’s surgery, medical staff had him up out of bed and moving around, and within weeks, he had already regained a surprising amount of strength and stamina.

“I was walking so fast, they said they knew I’d be out of there real quick,” Webster said.

On May 14, just under a month after his double-organ transplant, Webster was discharged to go home. Since then, every day is an improvement on the last.

“I already feel a lot better,” he said. “I’m getting my stamina back, I’m breathing better.”

After overcoming a decade of serious illness, Webster can finally focus on enjoying life. He’s making plans to travel more, and in October, he and Willis – partners for 11 years – plan to get married. Though Louisville is his hometown, UK and its staff of transplant specialists will always hold a special significance.

“They’re unbelievable, they keep up with me all the time,” he said. “I found the right place. No one else would do my transplant, and I was running out of time.”

Next steps:

  • To join the Kentucky Organ Donor 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.
  • The UK Transplant Center specializes in the care of patients with advanced, end-stage organ disease. Learn more about our services.
UK HealthCare celebrates 25 years of live-saving heart transplants.

Celebrating 25 years of heart transplants at UK HealthCare

On April 2, 1991, Dr. Michael Sekela performed the first heart transplant in the University of Kentucky’s history.

It’s been 25 years since that first operation, and we’ve been saving lives through heart transplantation ever since. In fact, we now do more than 40 heart transplants each year, and in 2015 we set a single-year record for the most heart transplants at one hospital in Kentucky.

While much has changed since Dr. Sekela’s first transplant, one thing has stayed the same: our commitment to providing the best care for patients with heart failure.

That commitment was on display earlier this week when patients gathered with staff and doctors from the UK Gill Heart Institute and the UK Transplant Center to celebrate 25 years of heart transplants at UK HealthCare.

“It’s so rewarding to see how our program has evolved,” Sekela said at the celebration. “We want to take care of our patients, and that’s always been the driving force of our program.”

Jim Holdiness, who received his new heart on Aug. 24, 1995, said UK HealthCare gave him a second chance at life.

“If hadn’t been for those people, in this hospital, I wouldn’t be here today,” he said.

Daniel Garcia received his new heart just earlier this year, but echoed Holdiness’ sentiment.

“I haven’t had this much energy in 25 years,” he said. “When I think of UK, I think of excellence and compassion. Everyone had my well-being in mind.”

Check out some photos from the event below and visit the UK HealthCare Facebook page for a full gallery.

Next steps:

The UK Transplant Center is moving on March 14.

The UK Transplant Center is moving!

Starting today, the UK Transplant Center is moving from its current location on the fourth floor of UK Albert B. Chandler Hospital to:

Kentucky Clinic
Wing D, Third Floor, Suite J301
740. S. Limestone

View and print directions and a map of the new location here.

Patients who are seen at the Transplant and Specialty Clinic at Norton Audubon Hospital in Louisville will continue receiving care at that facility. If you have any questions, please contact us at 866-285-4337.

Transplant Games flag stopping at UK HealthCare

The Transplant Games of America’s National Flag Tour will stop at UK HealthCare on Thursday to celebrate organ donors and recipients on its way to the 2016 Games in June.

Prior to the games, the official flags of the event travel across the country to help raise awareness of organ donation. The flags are also signed by the members of each state’s team. Members of Team Kentucky will be present to sign the flag this Thursday.

Karen Michul, a UK HealthCare employee and living kidney donor, will be participating in the Games for the second time this year, competing in several bowling events.

“Seeing the camaraderie of the donor families and recipients at the Games is amazing,” Michul said. “And some of these people are meeting for the first time! It’s an emotional ride.”

The flag will be on display and available for Team Kentucky to sign this Thursday at 10 a.m. inside the atrium of UK Albert B. Chandler Hospital Pavilion A. If you’re planning to attend, we encourage you to wear blue and green, the colors of Donate Life. Following the flag-signing and a few short remarks, you’re also welcome to stay a short photo session to celebrate the gift of life.

About the UK Transplant Center

For more than 50 years, people have turned to the UK Transplant Center to find answers to difficult problems and guidance in the face of uncertainty.

If you have organ disease or failure, we’re here to help. We specialize in the care of patients with advanced, end-stage organ disease, performing more than 170 transplant procedures every year. UK Transplant Center has clinic locations in Lexington, Louisville and Northern Kentucky, providing care for our transplant patients near the communities where they live and work.

Next steps:

Patients in UK HealthCare's first kidney donor chain.

Patients in UK HealthCare’s first kidney donor chain meet for first time

On Wednesday, we announced our first “kidney donor chain,” and patients in the the chain learned who their respective donors/recipients were.

Kidney donor chains, also called kidney paired exchanges, occur when a living kidney donor is incompatible with their intended recipient. The donor may agree to donate their kidney to a different patient, provided that their loved one receives a kidney from someone else.

When multiple pairs are involved, this causes a domino effect, with each recipient receiving a matched kidney from a stranger. That’s what happened here at UK HealthCare in June.

Eight surgeries were performed within 48 hours and four people were given their lives back.

Check out our infographic to see how it all worked.

infographic: UK HealthCare's first kidney donor chain

The chain was initiated by one altruistic donor who was willing to give her kidney to anyone who needed it: Nicki Coulter, a former nurse from Bloomfield, Ky.

“I used to be a nurse, and I just felt like this was something I needed to do,” Coulter said. “I was blessed with good health and a good support system in my family. So I decided to do it!”

Read more about this remarkable event at UKnow. And check out UK HealthCare’s Twitter feed for more coverage from Wednesday’s press conference.