Heart patient nears 25th anniversary of transplant

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March 31, 2014 | 12:12 pm

IOWA CITY — Andrew Hinze won’t get another heart.

With his health deteriorating as he approaches a transplant milestone, however, the 50-year-old Oelwein man is grateful for the second chance at life his second heart has given him.

“I’ve had all the joys and all the heartaches and everything that goes along with a regular life,” said Hinze, who is twice-divorced and the grandfather of two. “I was probably weeks from dying when I got the transplant, so everything (since then) has been gravy.”

The second patient to receive a heart at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and the longest living Iowan with an in-state transplant, Hinze will mark the 25th anniversary of his transplant on Tuesday.

Since the program’s inception in 1985, 275 patients have undergone the surgery at the hospital. Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines had 87 heart transplants before its program was suspended. Four patients who received hearts there before Hinze have since died, including a 32-year-old man who died last month after reaching the 25-year milestone.

Heart longevity hasn’t changed much since the first human heart transplant was performed in 1967 in Cape Town, South Africa, but other advancements are keeping patients alive longer.

Dr. Frances Johnson, director of cardiomyopathy treatment and medical director of the heart transplant program, said surgeons will soon perform Iowa’s first transplant of an artificial heart, under study at the UI, which has Iowa’s only heart transplant center. The $120,000 device also is being studied at other centers where it already has been used.

The device is temporary and is used as a bridge for patients awaiting a heart. The patient’s own heart is removed and replaced with the artificial heart, which has a small portable pump that allows patients to go home while awaiting a transplant.

As of last week, 19 Iowans were on a waiting list for a heart. Not all are candidates for the artificial heart.

Joel Newman, spokesman for the United Network of Organ Sharing, said fewer people are dying while waiting for a heart.

In 1998, for example, 802 patients died while awaiting a heart in the United States, compared to 359 in 2009.

The difference, both Newman and Johnson said, is primarily due to the development of devices, such as the artificial heart and pumps that help patients survive while waiting for a transplant.

The longest a patient has lived so far with a transplanted heart is 31 years.

Hinze, who has a hereditary heart condition called familial cardiomyopathy, is not a candidate for another heart because of damage to his other organs from medications.

Transplanted hearts last an average of 10 years, Johnson said, “so Andrew is definitely on the outer part of that bell-shaped curve.”

Hearts endure some damage when they are removed from the donor and again as biopsies are taken, she said. That damage means the hearts wear out faster. Other organs also are affected by the anti-rejection drugs transplant patients must take.

Hinze, who has a leaking heart valve and was hospitalized this week, was told he has six months to a year to live. He hopes to beat the odds.

A former masonry worker, Hinze was given the same outlook when he began experiencing heart failure at age 25.

Encouraged by the success of the UI’s first heart transplant patient, Emerson Martin, Hinze said he didn’t fear the operation. The only thing he knows about his donor is that he was 19.

The operations were celebrated widely in the media during the program’s inception. Martin, of North Liberty, died last year at age 50, just a few months short of the 25th anniversary of his June 2 transplant.

Hinze also received widespread attention after his transplant on March 1, 1986. That spotlight dimmed as the operations became almost commonplace to outsiders.

The medical team responsible for those transplants, however, takes another viewpoint.

“Every case is different,” Johnson said. “It still is really miraculous.”

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