Tag Archives: transplant tips

Life On The Heart Transplant Waiting List

Patrick McEntee was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy in 1996. By 2008, he had experienced two strokes and a non-obstructive heart attack. He received an LVAD in 2014 and began fundraising with HelpHOPELive six months after being listed for transplant. In honor of Heart Month, here are Patrick’s observations after a year and a half on the transplant waiting list.

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Pat received an LVAD in 2014


The Physical Impact


I was evaluated for transplant at the Cleveland Clinic in August 2014 and again in September 2014. I was admitted to the hospital immediately upon completion of that second evaluation and was officially listed for transplant that month. My LVAD was put in two days later. It was strange because I had walked – struggling to do so, but still walking on my own – to appointments all over the Clinic’s campus that Friday, and doctors thought I would be listed as a low-priority Level 2 on the waiting list. By Monday, they wouldn’t allow me to get out of bed. I didn’t feel any different, but I went with what they told me. Things escalated very quickly.

The LVAD knocked me for a loop. I didn’t quite know what I was in for. I was sedated for three days after the procedure and I spent a few more days in the ICU. I was in the hospital for a month total. I knew I was going for transplant evaluations, but I really had no idea that I would be there for a month. I thought I’d be returning home the same day. I got the LVAD and it was clear I wasn’t going to be able to continue working and living. I had to apply for disability and prepare for transplant.


Financial Challenges


When you go for a heart transplant evaluation, you don’t just see a transplant coordinator. You also see a cardiologist, a bone doctor, a dentist, a dermatologist and more–and there are expenses associated with each. It’s $30 every time I walk up to a doctor’s desk, plus parking and travel: it’s a 3.5-hour drive to Cleveland and 3.5 hours back home every time I have an appointment. I’m there at least once a month, and I’ve been admitted to the hospital twice during regular appointments since the LVAD was put in to help prepare my body for transplant.

Pat makes a 3.5-hour drive to his transplant center.

Pat faces a 3.5-hour drive to his transplant center


The Role of Fundraising


I’m honestly overwhelmed at the support I’ve been receiving. I’ve had family members, friends, and even friends-of-friends and anonymous donors make significant donations. Most of my fundraising has happened through online sharing and word-of-mouth. The most unnerving thing financially is not really knowing what medications I’ll be on and how much they will cost. Thanks to fundraising, even if I’m looking at $1,000 per month out-of-pocket with prescriptions, I have enough built up that I would be able to cover it for quite a while.


Finding Gratitude


The realization that there are certain things I can’t do is a challenge. Seventy- and 80-year-olds say that, but here I am at 41 saying that myself. But overall, I’m very thankful for the situation that I’m in. I’d love to be completely healthy, obviously, but it is what it is. I’m happy to be able to come and go and do what I want and still have a decent level of independence at this stage.

My wife has been tremendous. She has helped me take it day by day and roll with the changes. She has to be careful now about scheduling her travel for work in case I get ‘the call’ or need her help. It’s a toll that she’s happy to deal with, but it does get in the way of her being able to do what she wants or needs to do at times. For me it’s about staying positive, because I’m surrounded by my wife, my family, my friends and even strangers who are willing to jump in and help out. If you’re a positive person, I think people around you will often respond in that way.

I am grateful for the prayers from thousands of people from all over the country – many people, including strangers, have told me they pray for me daily. It’s truly humbling. My faith has taught me to be grateful for the extra time I have been given in this life, no matter how much more I get. I could easily be dead by now, but I am alive, which I take to mean that God has more for me to learn and accomplish in this life.


Unexpected Benefits


My sister has had similar heart-related issues within the past year. One of the benefits of not being able to work was being able to look out for her and take her to appointments. Beyond that, I’ve started to volunteer with some of the medical centers, talking to patients who are considering an LVAD or have just received one. I explain my experience to them. I’ve really appreciated being able to do that. I see it as almost a ministry, talking to these patients to give them my take on it.


Getting (Too) Comfortable


It’s one thing to say, okay, I’m used to this and this is the new normal. But I have to keep reminding myself that I could get the call at any time. There was a time after the LVAD that I didn’t feel like I was ready to get the call. Today, I still try to imagine what I’ll be doing when I get the call and how I’ll react. Am I going to be able to drop everything and go? If I got the call right now, I’d have to grab a bag and be out the door and tell my wife to meet me up there. It’s a fine line: I want to continue with life and not end up sitting there doing nothing, just waiting.

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Pat describes the “fine line” between preparing for transplant and continuing to live life


The Role Of Humor


Some might see my wife and my sense of humor as a bit morbid, but I find that laughing about our situation is helpful. For Christmas, my wife gave me an anatomically-correct plush heart and said, “Until the real thing comes along.” She also gave me a pair of socks with gold hearts and “heart of gold” stitched on them. Friends on Facebook helped me create a cardioversion playlist with songs like “Electric Avenue,” “Kickstart My Heart,” and “We Got The Beat.” A sense of humor is mandatory in dealing with the unknown of the process of waiting for a transplant.

"Until the real thing comes along..."

“Until the real thing comes along…”


What To Do While You’re Waiting


The important thing is to keep living your life and doing as much as you can. While I’m not working, I wake up and ask, what is my purpose today? Some days my purpose is to sit on the couch and watch TV. But other days I’ll say, today I’m going to do some writing. Today I’m going to read a book. Today I’m going to the grocery store. Whatever it is that you’re able to do, do it.

Get involved in whatever ways you can in life. For example, through volunteering. I found that very rewarding and helpful. Be willing to give of yourself. A lot of people would agree with me that when you give, you receive. It’s nice to tell your story and hear the stories of others.

Lastly, I would add, stay active. It’s not unusual to gain weight with the LVAD, so exercising as much as possible is incredibly important. I know it’s difficult when you are in heart failure but it’s a way to ensure you can be as strong as possible when the call comes.


Follow Patrick’s story or make a donation in his honor on his HelpHOPELive Campaign Page. Have your own transplant story to tell? Reach out to us on Facebook.

The Rewards And Challenges Of Transplant Social Work

You already know what it feels like to prepare for a transplant as a patient. But how do transplant professionals view the process? We asked Laurie McDonald, a clinical social worker and case manager for the UNC Center for Transplant Care, to answer our questions.

heart in hands transplant


What are some of the biggest challenges of transplant social work?

At times, I really, really want a particular organ recipient or donor to succeed, but based on his or her circumstances, that person is just not a suitable candidate. After years and years of this line of work, I have to console myself with the truth: transplant is not for everyone. For some, a transplant will make the situation worse instead of better. It’s difficult to keep that message at the forefront when the person in front of me truly believes a transplant will save them.


What are some of the rewards you experience?

Just this week, two people were transplanted in a row. Now, they are delighted to be breathing without supplemental oxygen and walking more easily than they have in a long time. To see joy and relief on the faces of transplant recipients and their family members is wonderful. I love seeing patients years post-transplant living full lives that honor their donors. Transplant remains a daily part of their lives, but it is no longer the central focus.


Have you witnessed areas of progress in transplant assessment?

Within the past few years, we have become more invested in transplant assessment tools that will give us concrete, unbiased information. When a doctor recommends lab work, those tests will result in definitive numbers that the doctor can use to diagnose and treat you. When you’re dealing with social and emotional factors, it’s far more difficult to accurately quantify and represent a patient’s profile.

We have started using a validated measure that is linked to patient outcomes developed by Jose Maldonado at Stanford. I use this risk assessment tool to come up with a score that reflects a candidate’s psychosocial situation. It’s imperfect, but it’s absolutely progress. It makes it far easier for team members to compare information and communicate across specialties. Personal and even subconscious biases are always a factor, so it’s extremely important for us to continue to take steps in this direction.


What advice would you give to those who are considering transplant social work?

Do it! It’s stimulating, rewarding, wonderful work. I absolutely love it. 15 years in and I’m not bored yet!

Quality improvement is really important in transplant in general and at UNC in particular. We are always learning and working to do things better. There are advances in medication, medical techniques, social evaluations and other areas happening constantly. It’s really an interesting place to be.


Share your experiences as a transplant candidate, recipient or social worker on Facebook.

6 Ways To Help A Loved One Prepare For A Transplant

Do you have a friend or family member who is preparing for a transplant? Here are six key pieces of advice for caregivers and supporters from Laurie McDonald, a clinic social worker and case manager for the UNC Center for Transplant Care.


Ask the person what he or she needs. Don’t assume you already know.


Be involved with the person’s care team. I love when I see a whole group of people come to a patient’s evaluation. They all get to learn about the process together, and identify where they can fit in and help.


Your loved one will need emotional, physical and financial support. Every person must find the way they can contribute most based on interests, skills and comfort levels. One person shouldn’t (and can’t) do it all.


Prepare for some surprises. Support networks are not always what you’d expect. Long-time friends may falter while people who are barely acquaintances step forward and come through.


A real challenge after transplant is dealing with medications and their side effects. Your loved one’s mood might be all over the place. Don’t take irritability and other side effects personally. Develop a protective skin.


Find your own outlets and support networks. Everyone needs a break.


What’s your best piece of advice for helping a loved one prepare for a transplant? Share your thoughts with us on Facebook and on Twitter.