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Stories from patients, family, friends and Mayo Clinic staff

Transplant Archive

February 20th, 2015 · Leave a Comment

World Record Skydiver Credits ‘Sam’ for the Ability to Live Life at 100 mph

By Paul Scotti

Kim Dobson, 63, of Oveido, Florida, skydiving.

He’s a former Green Beret who served in Somalia. He’s a record-holding skydiver with several thousand jumps under his belt since he began leaping out of airplanes at age 18. And he’s a liver transplant recipient, who affectionately refers to his transplanted organ as “Sam.”

Kim Dobson, 63, of Oveido, Florida, is the definition of someone who lives life to the fullest. He not only participates in national and international skydiving competitions, but also scuba dives, plays golf, and enjoys shooting sports. With both a sports and military background, he was active, fit and the picture of health. But that all changed in 1994, after knee surgery and after undergoing a series of tests for back pain. Told he had elevated liver enzymes, Kim was eventually diagnosed with type 3 hepatitis C. Surprised but confident he could beat his disease and resume his active lifestyle, he went through three cycles/47 weeks of interferon treatments at a hospital in Birmingham, Alabama.

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Tags: Florida Campus, Hepatitis C, liver transplant, transplantation


February 6th, 2015 · Leave a Comment

Mayo Patient, Staffer Run Phoenix 10K Together

By Hoyt Finnamore

Don Salamone  and Linda Staley run in 10K race. Mayo Clinic patient Don Salamone is proof that being in great shape before undergoing a heart transplant can enhance recovery. Even while tethered to a ventricular assist device that kept his heart functioning until the transplant surgery, he pushed himself to work out on a stationary bike for two hours daily and walked several miles on a treadmill.

While he could handily beat the competition in races before he received the implanted device, he couldn’t beat viral cardiomyopathy, which makes it harder for your heart to pump and deliver blood to the rest of your body, and can lead to heart failure.

Don underwent his heart transplant surgery in October 2012. True to his mission, he spent only eight days in the hospital following the surgery.

“I made a pledge to be in good shape before the surgery and to always honor my responsibility to my donor to take care of this heart,” Don says. As a result, within days of his surgery, he was up early, walking laps, training and eventually competing in numerous runs in Arizona and elsewhere.

Fast forward to Jan. 16, 2015. Now close to age 60, Don was living his promise. He was at the 10K starting line at the popular P.F. Chang’s Rock 'n' Roll Marathon in Phoenix, where some 30,000 athletes participated.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Tags: Arizona Campus, cardiomyopathy, Heart Transplant, Mayo Clinic Transplant Center


January 27th, 2015 · Leave a Comment

Surviving Hepatitis C — A Patient’s Journey Through Two Liver Transplants

By Paul Scotti

Mayo Clinic patient Nellie Betancourt (left) with her husband Marcelo Castro on the Mayo Clinic in Florida campus January 2015.

Mayo Clinic patient Nellie Betancourt (left) with her husband Marcelo Castro on Mayo Clinic's Florida campus in January 2015.

 

For most organ transplant recipients, receiving the “gift of life” is a one-time experience. But for Nellie Betancourt, battling the hepatitis C virus that had been in hiding in her body for years required another “second chance at life,” thanks to a second generous donor and a new generation of anti-viral drugs.

Betancourt, a 56-year-old mother of two and grandmother of seven from Puerto Rico, was first diagnosed with elevated liver enzymes during a routine exam in 1995. Further testing revealed a positive result for the hepatitis C virus, which resulted in several rounds of standard anti-viral drug treatments over the next several years, none of which were successful in effectively managing her disease. This began a 20-year battle with hepatitis C that was to eventually include two liver transplants performed at Mayo Clinic’s Florida campus.

“By 2002, I was told that my liver enzymes were rapidly increasing, and that I’d eventually need a liver transplant or face liver failure,” says Betancourt. “I was only 42 years old at the time.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Tags: liver transplant, transplant, Florida Campus


October 30th, 2014 · Leave a Comment

Patient Attributes Health to Excellent Care, A Generous Donor, and a Terrible Spider Bite

By Hoyt Finnamore

Jane Applen Anderson saw here health improve after a kidney and pancreas transplant.. You never know how an experience – even a negative experience – can shape the rest of your life. Decades ago, when Jane Applen-Anderson came to Mayo Clinic Hospital, Methodist Campus, in Rochester with her leg swollen to three times its usual size, she wasn’t thinking about what good could come out of it.

She would come to learn she’d been bitten by a poisonous brown recluse spider. Mayo Clinic doctors treated her infection, removed the dead tissue, and worked to repair the damage done. They saved her leg, and they saved her life. That was just the first time.

While in the hospital, Jane was informed that tests showed her type 1 diabetes needed to be regulated more closely. Otherwise, she could lose her kidney function and her vision within the next year. Refusing to let the condition bring her down, Jane carefully followed her diabetes self-care plan. “You have to be a responsible patient, and do your part to follow your care plan,” she says.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Tags: Brown Recluse, Kidney and Pancreas Transplant, Type 1 Diabetes


August 25th, 2014 · Leave a Comment

Physician Experiences the Mayo “Patient Experience” After Double Lung Transplant

By Paul Scotti

Joseph J. Tepas III, M.D., a 68-year-old pediatric surgeon in Jacksonville, Florida, who had idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and later a lung transplant at Mayo Clinic in Florida.

When a doctor suddenly becomes the patient with a life-threatening illness, Mayo Clinic’s commitment to high-quality medical care that puts the needs of the patient first takes on fresh perspective, especially as it relates to the principle of compassionate care, which is a hallmark of Mayo Clinic.

Such was the case when Joseph J. Tepas III, M.D., a 68-year-old pediatric surgeon in Jacksonville, Florida, learned that the wheezing and shortness of breath he was experiencing turned out to be idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a potentially life-threatening disease that occurs from unexplained scarring of the lung tissue.

In addition to doing pediatric surgery, Dr. Tepas is a practicing trauma surgeon and surgical intensivist. He is the medical director of the region’s only pediatric trauma unit, and, as a retired captain in the Navy Reserve, appreciates the critical importance of maintaining a personal commitment to health and fitness. Dr. Tepas had always lived a healthy lifestyle and, other than some occasional allergy symptoms, never had any significant health issues. But lying dormant in his otherwise healthy body was a disease that was quietly scarring and shutting his lungs down.

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Tags: Katie Caples, Katie Ride for Life, lung transplant, MayoClinicFL, Pulmonary Fibrosis


August 14th, 2014 · Leave a Comment

A Kidney Between Friends

By Hoyt Finnamore

Todd Goldrick, transplant patient, stops for a photo with his donor, Marty Yeager. Todd Goldrick was living the dream. Good job. Loving wife. Two young, healthy kids. Weekends spent playing golf, softball, kayaking, hiking, running or just hanging around home with the family. But that changed suddenly in 2010, when he and his wife simply tried to buy some life insurance. He was just 28.

"Mine came back straight out denied," Todd says. "They told me the reasons. There was a whole long list -- high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and a few other things that I don't remember exactly."

Before that day, Todd says he'd been to see his doctor in the Minneapolis–Saint Paul area "maybe every two years," so the policy denial came of left field. In fact, he says it scared him into doing nothing about it, at least initially. "I was kind of naïve and a little scared to go back to the doctor," he says. "So I didn't do anything."

Six months later, he got a sinus infection that wouldn't go away, and eventually he went to urgent care, where some flags were raised unrelated to his sinuses. "They took my blood pressure, and it was 200 over 120," he says. "At that point, they told me I needed to go to the ER."  Read the rest of this entry »

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Tags: Alport syndrome, kidney disease, kidney transplant, Living Donor Transplant


August 13th, 2014 · Leave a Comment

Leukemia Survivor Volunteers in a Unique Way to Help Fellow Bone Marrow Transplant Recipients

By Paul Scotti

Charlie Willwerth, a 61 year-old leukemia survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient from St. Augustine, Fla. is taking the necessary steps to help bring life-saving stems cells to others in need of a bone marrow transplant. Some people who overcome a life-threatening illness feel motivated to give something back to those who helped make their recovery possible. Charlie Willwerth, a 61-year-old leukemia survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient from St. Augustine, Florida, is taking steps to help bring life-saving stems cells to others in need of a bone marrow transplant.

Two years out from his bone marrow transplant, and with his leukemia in remission, Charlie recently completed courier training with Be The Match, the world’s largest bone marrow registry, to become a volunteer stem cell courier. His new “job” -- transporting life-saving stem cells from a donor’s location to a matching recipient -- can take him anywhere in the world.

“This is the most direct way I can help others who have helped me get a second chance at life,” says Charlie. “If it wasn’t for my donor, I might not be here today to have the opportunity to help others with needs similar to mine.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Tags: Bone Marrow Donor, Bone Marrow Transplant, Dr James Foran, Leukemia, Mayo Clinic in Florida


June 30th, 2014 · 1 Comment

Nicole’s Journey From Nurse to Transplant Patient and Back

By Hoyt Finnamore

Mayo Clinic nurse and transplant patient Nicole Jahns. When Nicole Jahns was just five months old, her parents – and her doctors – knew something was wrong. She wasn't gaining weight like a five-month-old should, and she wasn't, as her doctors put it, "thriving." They soon discovered why. Nicole had cystic fibrosis, an inherited disorder that affects the cells that produce mucus, sweat and digestive juices causing them to become thick and sticky rather than thin and slippery, as they should be. It's a life-threatening condition that can cause severe damage to a person's digestive system and lungs.

Though it's been challenging at times, Nicole has never allowed her condition to stop her from living her life, and she dedicated herself to caring for others as a nurse at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. In late 2012, Nicole’s life was interrupted for six months while she waited for a double lung transplant. That transplant finally came in early May 2013, but getting there wasn't easy.

For starters, in a story in a local newspaper, one of Nicole's pulmonary physicians at Mayo Clinic, Mark Wylam, M.D., said that to simply stay on the transplant list, Nicole couldn't leave the hospital during her six-month wait for a transplant. Not even to simply have lunch or a cup of coffee with family or friends. Read the rest of this entry »

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Tags: Cystic Fibrosis, Dr Mark Wylam, lung transplant, Nursing, Patient Stories, transplant


May 14th, 2014 · Leave a Comment

Miracle Patient Overcomes Unique Challenges to Receive Double Lung Transplant

By Paul Scotti

Curtis Higgons, 22 year-old double lung transplant recipient at Mayo Clinic in Florida poses at the bowling alley with his bowling ball.

Photo by Ninoska A. Nunez

To 22-year-old double lung transplant recipient Curtis Higgons, being dubbed the “miracle patient” by his physicians may seem somewhat overstated. But when you consider the medical challenges his doctors had to contend with in preparing him for a life-saving double lung transplant, his moniker may be well deserved.

Curtis was born with cystic fibrosis, an inherited chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system of about 30,000 children and adults in the United States alone. A defective gene and its protein product cause the body to produce unusually thick, sticky mucus that clogs the lungs and can lead to life-threatening lung infections. It also obstructs the pancreas and stops natural enzymes from helping the body break down and absorb food. As the diseases progresses, lung transplantation often becomes a last treatment option.

“Although I was diagnosed with CF at six months old, it only had minor effects on my breathing until I reached my early high school years,” says Curtis. “I was a varsity athlete in bowling and golf, but during my sophomore year of high school things began to progress, and I ended up in the hospital three times.”  Read the rest of this entry »

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Tags: Curtis Higgons, Cystic Fibrosis, lung transplant, Mayo Clinic Florida, patient story, transplantation


April 30th, 2014 · Leave a Comment

She Was Born with Two Holes in Her Heart and No One Knew

By Cynthia (Cindy) Weiss

Ileana Hernandez, 27-years old, was born with two holes in her heart.

Lung transplant brings unexpected answers to 27-year-old

Ileana Hernandez was born with two holes in her heart. But for 27 years, no one knew.

Hernandez, a computer systems engineer, worked long hours at her job with Bank of America in Jacksonville, Fla. She had transferred from her native Mexico because of her particular set of skills. Things were going fine until she started to notice shortness of breath when she climbed to her upstairs apartment.

“I had an explanation for everything -- it was the long hours, or the weekend-long computer installations, or the fact that I hadn’t slept in two days,” Hernandez recalls. As the youngest of three children growing up in Guadalajara, Mexico, she had led a normal life, did weight training in high school, participated in folkloric dancing -- including some parades -- and had no problem getting through college.

“Exhaustion was my justification [for the symptoms],” Hernandez says. But one evening, as she climbed the steps to her apartment with two bags of groceries, she ran out of breath and had to hold on to the rail. She felt pain in her chest. She composed herself and still went to work to do an evening computer systems installation thinking that the chest pain would go away. It didn’t, and by the next day she knew it was time to find a doctor. Read the rest of this entry »

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Tags: Cesar Keller, Eisenmenger syndrome, Ileana Hernandez, MayoClinicFL, patient story