Expanded heart transplant guidelines are helping to save lives

NORTH PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- There are many treatments for heart failure. But sometimes, a transplant is the best option.

More people like Heinz Heiduk are getting second chances at one local hospital, thanks to a second look at transplant guidelines.

Heiduk, of Horsham, Pa., is again the "picture" of health, thanks to a new heart.

Last year, a virus attacked his heart muscle, causing it to fail quickly.

"It went down to about 10%, where I had trouble walking to the mail, mailbox," he recalls.

Because he was 70, Heinz was one year too old for a heart transplant at one Philadelphia hospital.

So he went to Temple Health for a second opinion.

He was approved for the transplant, and to his surprise, got one five days later.

"I was shocked, because they said, you know, 4-6 months is probably normal," says Heinz, still smiling at his good fortune.

Dr. Eman Hamad says Temple expanded its heart transplant guidelines, after finding that many didn't have scientific backing.

For example, there's no strict age cut-off. Otherwise-healthy patients in their '70s are eligible.

"They have the same 5-year survival as everybody else. And they have less rejection because their immune system is not as strong," says Dr. Hamad.

There's also no automatic refusal because of radiation treatment for cancer.

"We take it on a case-by-case basis and evaluate what type of cancer they had," she adds.

Other factors, like smoking, or marijuana or alcohol use are also evaluated individually.

It's enabled Temple to offer life-saving transplants to some patients rejected elsewhere.

"Our survival currently is the best in the region; 98 percent - one-year survival. In addition, we are the fastest list of transplant, so basically patients get transplanted quicker here," says Dr. Hamad.

With his new heart, Heiduk now cherishes everyday things.

"I walk the dog every day, you know, a couple times. I can go up and down steps perfectly," reflects Heiduk.

Dr. Hamad says the guidelines are important, but patients like Heinz, committed to caring for their new hearts, are a big element of Temple's success rates.
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