Heart-transplant-patientOn Monday, October 29, Hurricane Sandy was doing its best to batter the Philadelphia region but that didn’t prevent HUP staff from performing not one, but two organ transplants. 

Nicole Hornsby, Heart Transplant coordinator, received the call about an available heart a little after 2 pm on Monday. Due to extreme weather conditions,  Jack Vaughn, a local patient on HUP’s heart transplant list, was now at the top. Could they take it?  She quickly notified Vaughn who wanted to move ahead, but was afraid to make the drive from Easton.   Hornsby immediately started making calls -– both internally and externally –- seeking a way to get the patient down.  Gift of Life provided the name of an ambulance company in the Easton area.  “They said no but gave me the name of another,” she said.  “That company said they’d call me back.”  

Meanwhile, texts, emails, and calls flew back and forth between her, Michael Acker, MD, chief of Cardiovascular Surgery, and  Pavan Atluri, MD, who would perform the transplant, trying to figure out how to safely get the patient here.  PennSTAR was grounded but Bob Higgins, PennSTAR’s program director, offered to get the patient with its ground ambulance.  But the trip there and then back would be dangerous and long.

Finally, 40 minutes after her initial call, the Suburban Rescue Squad of Palmer Township returned her call.  They would pick up the patient at his house at 6:15 and make the trip to HUP.  Vaughn safely arrived at HUP after 8 pm.  By 10 am Tuesday, he had received his heart and was in the ICU recovering.

As if one transplant in these circumstances weren’t  amazing enough, another call came from the donor hospital shortly after the first.  A liver was now available as well.  The original recipient could not get to his hospital and one of HUP’s patient was next on the list.  Could he get there?

Nicole Platt, a transplant coordinator who worked in tandem with Hornsby to get Vaughn to HUP, took the lead in this.  The patient not only wanted the transplant, but was also willing to drive in on his own. He said he would leave his home -– which is north of Doylestown -- as soon as possible.  Twenty minutes after the initial call, the patient called back.  “He said ‘There are five ways out of my neighborhood and four are blocked with heavy trees I can’t move. I’m going to try the fifth.’” I think I held my breath until he called me back 15 minutes later with good news: ‘I made it to 611.’ “

They talked several times during his trip down.  “Judging by our conversations, you wouldn’t have known we were in the middle of a hurricane,” she said.  “He said my calm demeanor kept him relaxed but I wasn’t feeling all that calm!”

Nearly four hours after he left his home, the recipient arrived at HUP.  Peter Abt, MD, performed the liver transplant after the heart transplant early Tuesday morning and, by Sunday, the patient had been discharged to home and was doing well.


Photo caption:  Nicole Hornsby with heart transplant patient Jack Vaughn.

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