“We spent the long flight home monitoring and caring for the heart,” said Catarino, a recognized leader in the field of heart and lung transplantation and aortic surgery. “The whole travel team was eager to land, knowing two lives would be saved that very night.”
Once the surgeons, heart and lungs arrived at Cedars-Sinai, Emerson headed straight into surgery to perform the heart transplant. His colleague, Dominick Megna, MD, surgical director of the Lung Transplant Program, performed the lung transplant.
Dominick Megna, MD
Donald Stivers, 74, who had been battling ischemic cardiomyopathy, received the heart as part of an ongoing clinical trial evaluating the system as a way to use hearts that would otherwise not be available.
“There are so many mixed emotions, but I am so fortunate—the joy is truly overwhelming,” said Stivers, who lives in Three Rivers, California, and who is eager to resume his once-active lifestyle of hiking in the mountains surrounding his home.
Stivers opted into the OCS Heart clinical trial because of his age and height of 6 feet, 4 inches—two qualifiers that could make it extremely difficult to find a donor match.
“I was told I had six to 12 months left to live if a heart didn’t become available,” recalled Stivers.
But when he and his wife got the call late one night in early March, his feelings of desperation turned to hope, knowing he could now be given more moments in the mountains and time spent with his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
"There is hope out there," said Stivers. “And I found mine through this donor and the team at Cedars-Sinai.”
For Emerson and his fellow transplant surgeons, Stivers’ journey makes the long flights, middle-of-the-night surgeries and often-complex cases more than worthwhile.
“Our jobs are predictably unpredictable,” said Emerson. “At the same time, it’s extremely rewarding. At the end of the day, people like Don are so desperately sick, yet you can give them high-quality, memory-building time back to enjoy life.
Read more from the Cedars-Sinai Blog: Being Patient: The Delicate Timing of Organ Transplantation