Heart Transplant Social Worker , Penn Transplant Institute

Deb Penn Medicine Heart Transplant Social Worker

"As a heart transplant social worker, I’m involved in a very intense time in patients’ lives. I follow them from pre-transplant when their condition has intensified, all the way out 15 or even 20 years’ post-transplant. I get to see their hopes and dreams come true right before my eyes. It’s incredibly inspiring.

I work exclusively with patients who have heart failure, patients who need mechanical support devices to help their hearts function, or those awaiting transplant. I help them, and their families, cope with their diagnosis, connect them with resources, and find solutions to the daily challenges they may face. Really anything that will help make their lives easier and less stressful, whether that’s helping them apply for disability or making sure they can afford their life sustaining medications.

During patients’ transplant evaluations, I have them share a list of things they want to do when they’re healthy again. It’s a way for them to hold onto a vision of an improved quality of life.  Seeing them accomplish these milestones is a gift for all of us.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought its challenges. I’ve helped patients and families with abrupt changes in their finances, unexpected food insecurity, and major changes in their emotional state. My job, our job, is to quickly get in and support those families who now need extra resources.

When things get tough for a patient, I think my colleagues would say I put my head down and make it work, make it happen. If I have to figure out a new avenue for a patient, I do it. It can be emotional and hard and draining, but there’s never been a time when I’ve said I can’t do this job anymore. I’ve been a heart transplant social worker for 27 years, 22 of those years at Penn. When you work in the transplant field, it becomes part of who you are."

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