UMC performs 400th heart transplant since '79

By Cara Miller

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Although he never met him, Walter Warren owes his life to a 22-year-old man from Phoenix.

In March 1993, UMC cardiologists gave Warren the heart of the 22-year-old organ donor.

This weekend, University Medical Center cardiologists performed their 400th heart transplant. Donald Acker, 60, underwent four hours of surgery and is in stable condition.

Started in 1979 by Dr. Jack Copeland, UMC was one of the first six heart transplant centers in the United States.

Copeland, chief of cardiovascular and thoracic surgery, performed the state's first heart transplant on Norman "Dutch" Tarr of Tucson. Tarr lived for more than four years with his new heart. The longest surviving heart transplant recipient in the program received her new heart later that year and celebrated her 15th year on Dec. 1.

In addition to heart transplants, the UMC Cardiothoracic Transplant Program is a national leader in the use of the artificial heart. In 1985, the team performed the world's first successful "bridge-to-transplant" with a total artificial heart. Since then, 15 total artificial heart devices have been implanted at UMC.

The UMC was also part of setting a world record when Sharoyn Loughran, a UMC patient, left the hospital. Loughran set the record

for living longest on an artificial heart prior to successful transplant surgery and discharge from a hospital. She lived for 186 days on the CardioWest total artificial heart and is now home in Scottsdale.

In addition to Copeland, Gulshan Sethi, Francisco Arabia and Luis Rosado comprise the UMC heart transplant surgeons. According to Copeland, 1994 has been the best year for heart transplants.

This year alone, they've done 38 heart transplants, seven heart-lung transplants, five single-lung transplants and one double-lung transplant, for a total of 51 transplants.

"We're very lucky to have reached this stage in our program and we're extremely happy that survival rates are among the highest in the country," he states in a press release from the center. Copeland was unavailable for comment over the weekend.

The survival rate for heart transplant recipients at UMC is one of the highest in the world, with more than 93 percent one year after transplant, 90 percent at second year and 81 percent at five years. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, the national average survival rate is 82.1 percent at one year after the transplant.

But Warren doesn't care about statistics. Since his surgery in 1993, he said he takes life day by day and takes nothing for granted.

"I'm living, but somebody had to die for me to live," he said. "There is no way in any language to convey how you really feel in your heart. How do you thank somebody for the gift of life?"

Warren said while he feels weak sometimes, he is generally pretty healthy.

"My good days are really good, but my bad days are really rotten," he said.

As a student at Northern Arizona University, Warren hopes to get a teaching job when he finishes his certification courses. But said he will not overwork himself.

"I wouldn't compromise the integrity of this heart," he said. "A lot of people worked hard to give it to me."

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