FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) –Former Vice President, Dick Cheney, got a heart transplant over the weekend—at 71 years old.
Some people say 71 little old for such a serious operation, but Dr. Joe Ladowski, Cardiothoracic Surgeon and Medical Director of Lutheran Hospital’s Heart Transplant Program, says since people are living longer, procedures like that are more likely.
Dr. Ladowski says he's pretty sure the transplant had nothing to do with Cheney’s prominent status, especially since he’s been waiting for 20 months, according to Reuters. In fact, he says it was probably just his turn to receive a heart.
According to Reuters, Cheney has had five heart attacks since the age of 37, and he's been living with a Ventricular Assist Device (VAD) that's been pumping his heart by battery since 2010.
Nationally, recipients are normally on a waiting list for six months to a year. Dr. Ladowski says the average waiting period for a heart transplant in Allen County is four months. He says only 17-18,000 heart transplants are done every year, which is why many people are choosing the VAD alternative to a transplant. He says with medical and technological advancements, a VAD can now last a person seven to 10 years.
Although there is a greater demand than supply for organs, there's a process everyone must go through to receive a donation, no matter who you are.
“You have to make sure these other end-organs are working well enough to benefit from the heart replacement or support,” he said. “You have to check the immune system to make sure it’s not revved up for some reason and likely to create rejection. And once we get all of that information in place, we make a decision as a group, whether this is a person that can benefit or not from the transplant process.”
He says organs such as the heart can only be out of the body for three to four hours, so factors like, age, size, blood type, and geographic location are also taken into consideration before contacting a recipient. Dr. Ladowski says people are placed on waiting lists according to priority. A “Status 2” recipient is someone who is waiting at home and able to maintain through a medical regimen. A “1B” is someone who is on a medical regimen, but needs to visit the hospital frequently for additional medication by vein. A “1A” is the highest priority status. That is someone who has to stay in the hospital with continuous monitoring and are on two or more intravenous medication. But ultimately, Dr. Ladowski says when it comes to organs it’s not age, but quality that counts the most.
“What we always do is assess people in terms of a chronological age and a biological age. In other words, we all know people who are 50 years old and they’ve been smoking for 40 of those years and they’ve not watched their diet and they’re inactive, and they really don’t follow a physician’s recommendations about medications,” he said. “So they’re 50 chronologically, but biologically they’re much, much older than that.”
Dr. Ladowski says Lutheran Medical Hospital is in the top 10 for oldest recipients and donors in the world. The oldest transplant patient at Lutheran was also 71 years old. Doctors in Washington say Cheney is recovering “amazingly.”
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