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Welcoming Heart - Turned down Elsewhere, Patient Comes to Temple for Transplant

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Posted by Temple Heart & Vascular Institute

Frank Tummarello knew about his sleep apnea, which never gave him much trouble. What he didn’t realize is that he also had atrial fibrillation (AFib), an electrical malfunction in the heart. That changed 10 years ago during a round of golf in Florida.

“I was on the 17th hole when my shirt started fluttering,” says the 68-yearold Voorhees, NJ, resident. “Someone asked me if I felt OK and I said I felt fine. When we finished the round, I went into the locker room and collapsed.”

Fortunately, Tummarello was revived by a cardiologist who happened to be standing next to him. He was quickly transported to the hospital where he was diagnosed with AFib. Upon returning to the Philadelphia area, he had a double ablation (removal of heart tissue that is firing off abnormal electrical impulses) to eliminate the problem, or so he thought. In the ensuing years, his health continued to deteriorate but the reason wasn’t clear. Then, three years ago, doctors discovered the problem – one that came as a complete surprise.

The only solution was a heart transplant, something he was turned down for at another Philadelphia hospital because of his age. His doctors suggested he try Temple.

“I was diagnosed with cardiac amyloidosis, which I had never heard of,” Tummarello says. “This condition causes the liver to make an abnormal protein (called amyloid), which went to my heart and caused it to enlarge and thicken. This led to problems with blood flow to the rest of my body. I may have had it for years and didn’t know it.”

Although not particularly rare, cardiac amyloidosis is often overlooked or misdiagnosed as some other type of heart problem. As it progresses, the disease causes many of the same symptoms of congestive heart failure: breathlessness, fatigue and weakness. For Tummarello, daily activities became increasingly difficult until it reached the point where he couldn’t walk more than a block or climb the stairs in his shore house.

The only solution was a heart transplant, something he was turned down for at another Philadelphia hospital because of his age. His doctors suggested he try Temple.

“Not many hospitals will put cardiac amyloid patients on the transplant list because of the extra heart problems associated with the disease,” says Rene Alvarez, MD, Vice Chief of Cardiology and Medical Director of the hospital’s Heart Failure/Cardiac Transplantation Program. “But, after running tests, we determined that the benefits of transplant outweighed the risks in Mr. Tummarello’s case. It was the option that would give him the best chance at a normal life.”

On September 20, 2016, Temple's transplant team gave Tummarello a new heart after a two-month wait. Although the transplant isn’t a cure for the cardiac amyloidosis, it has given him a new lease on life. Most of Tummarello’s symptoms have disappeared, and tests show the new heart is working well. He has returned to many activities he previously had to give up, including coaching his son’s basketball team.

“My shore house is a block off the beach, and last year the only way I could get there is if someone drove me,” says Tummarello, who thanks his donor family and the Temple transplant team for giving him his life back. “The other day I walked nine holes of golf so the block to the beach shouldn’t be a problem this year!”

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