UK broke Kentucky heart transplant record in 2015

Terry Gibson, who received a new heart at the University of Kentucky Medical Center in June, lifted weights during physical therapy in December.
Terry Gibson, who received a new heart at the University of Kentucky Medical Center in June, lifted weights during physical therapy in December. Herald-Leader

Terry Gibson is warming up on a stationary bicycle, a yellow paper mask over her nose and mouth. Later she’ll do strength training. Then she will go home, walk her dog and clean her house.

The trim red-haired woman, 57, had a heart transplant at the University of Kentucky Transplant Center nearly seven months ago after enduring decades of heart trouble.

The transplant has made her life a bigger place. She used to struggle walking to the mailbox; now she’s thinking of trips to Australia and Paris.

Gibson has three rehabilitation sessions a week in the busy University of Kentucky HealthCare cardiac rehab center on East Maxwell Street. Exercise physiologist Jacob Stone said Gibson is “very motivated. She’ll do anything you ask her to do.”

Heart transplant patients have some initial nerve damage that causes them to take longer to get warmed up during a workout. Gibson, however, takes the bike warm-up, cools down and stretches and jumps right on the strength training machines that will tone her arms and legs, guided by Stone.

The UK Transplant Center performed 43 adult heart transplants in 2015, a record for the most heart transplants performed by a Kentucky medical center in a single year. The previous record was 27.

UK’s transplant teams work with the UK Gill Heart Institute’s Advanced Heart Failure Program. Some patients receive a left ventricular assist device as their treatment or to serve as a bridge to transplant. UK implanted 29 of the assist devices in 2015.

Louisville’s Jewish Hospital, the other Kentucky hospital that offers adult heart transplants, reported that it had done seven by early December. Louisville’s Kosair Children’s Hospital offers heart transplants for children and is the only other Kentucky hospital doing so.

Only 20 to 25 medical centers in the nation perform more than 30 heart transplants a year.

“Once you start transplanting more, you’re able to transplant more complex cases,” said Dr. Navin Rajagopalan, medical director of heart transplantation at UK HealthCare. “Once we start to grow, we’re able to grow more. ... Our program is big enough so that we can tackle cases that may be more complicated than the standard.”

Two of the 43 transplants were combined heart and kidney transplants, Rajagopalan said.

Rajagopalan said Gibson “was really sick when I first met her.”

“She’s done quite well,” he said of Gibson now. “Terry is very motivated to get better. She would push herself.”

Gibson is not alone in taking care of her new heart and taking advantage of her new opportunities.

“We have a younger patient who’s back to playing basketball after the transplant,” Rajagopalan said. “We really want them to get back to what they enjoy doing.”

Gibson has always worked, often in jobs that required 60 hours a week. Now, after her heart transplant, she’s ready to take on a few extras that her previous condition would not have allowed.

“I’ve always wanted to go to Paris,” she said. “I’m grateful I am able to plan like that.”

Cheryl Truman: 859-231-3202, @CherylTruman