Joe H., 76, stepped onto the pitcher’s mound at the Philadelphia Phillies’ Citizens Bank Park, began his windup, and let the baseball fly toward home plate. It was July 2022, and the former Penn State baseball coach had just thrown out the game’s first pitch on “I Heart Phillies Night,” sponsored by the Temple Heart and Vascular Institute.
And with that toss, Joe celebrated his remarkable new life as a heart failure survivor.
Joe’s journey began in 2000. His Nittany Lions baseball team had earned the right to play in the Super Regionals of the NCAA Tournament, giving Penn State a chance to advance to the College World Series.
But though his team was about to travel to Texas for the next round of the tournament, Joe couldn’t make the trip — he had a heart attack before the Super Regionals began.
“That was the first sign of serious heart trouble for me,” he says.
It wasn’t the last. Joe had a pacemaker implanted when he was in his forties to help regulate his heartbeat before the heart attack, This was upgraded to an automatic implantable cardioverter defibrillator (AICD) after having an episode of ventricular tachycardia, and even then he continued to experience irregular heart rhythms.
In 2014, Joe’s health took a turn for the worse. He began to experience breathlessness and was diagnosed with heart failure. He was in and out of the hospital regularly, with a lot of additional procedures. In late 2016, he was diagnosed with cardiac amyloidosis, a disease in which a protein builds up in the heart, thickening its tissues and preventing it from working properly.
What’s more, the damage to his heart had led to worsening heart failure. Joe was told that he would need a heart transplant.
Last chance for a failing heart
Heart transplants save lives, returning people to many of the activities that failure prevented them from enjoying, enabling them to live fairly normal lives.
After he was told he needed a new heart, Joe started looking into getting on a transplant waiting list. But he soon ran into a problem.
“Certain places were quick to say, if you’re over 50, you’re not getting a new heart here,” Joe says. “I asked one doctor, ‘What do I do?’ And the reply was, ‘Get your bucket list ready.’”
That’s when Joe made an appointment with an advanced heart failure specialist from Temple Health’s Heart Transplant Program, which is among the nation’s best for complex cases.
At Temple, more patients qualify for heart transplants
Since 1984, the Temple Heart and Vascular Institute has performed more than 1,300 transplants, oftentimes helping people considered too high-risk at other transplant centers.
At Temple, the heart failure team evaluated Joe to determine whether he was a good heart transplant candidate. This pre-transplant evaluation — which all potential patients receive — is an important step in the transplant journey. It includes a physical exam, diagnostic tests, and a psychological evaluation.
In the summer of 2017, Joe was placed on the heart transplant waiting list.
A short wait for Joe
Once admitted to the hospital because of worsening heart failure, Joe was matched to a donor heart almost immediately — within 72 hours — and he soon had a new heart beating in his chest. Joe then began the transplant recovery process.
Five years after his heart transplant surgery, Joe is busy enjoying an improved quality of life. He loves physical activity including dancing, cycling and helping to instruct his close friend’s grandson in baseball.
And, of course, a huge highlight of Joe’s journey was that day on the pitcher’s mound at Citizens Bank Park, when he threw out the first pitch and was a guest on the Phillies pre-game radio show.
Joe credits his recovery to the support of his wife, family, and friends. And he has special praise for the Temple heart transplant team.
“Talk about a wonderful moment in my life — that was it,” Joe says of his heart transplant at Temple. “They not only saved my life at the time, they extended my life.”
When you need experienced heart failure specialists
If you're living with advanced heart failure and want to learn about treatment options, schedule a visit with a heart specialist at the Temple Health’s Heart and Vascular Institute today. Call 800-TEMPLE-MED (800-836-7536) or request an appointment.
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