Stanford Heart-Lung Transplant: Steve Rasmussen's story

Author: Stanford Health Care

I've been going to Stanford Hospital, for my whole life as a CF patient, cystic fibrosis. After four, or five, or six hospitalizations, you start realizing that you just can't get on top of it. When he was very, very sick, one of the nurses at Stanford took me out to lunch, and she asked me, "Renee, do you know that Steve's dying? That he's not gonna make it through this week?" I was twenty-eight years old, been in the hospital for thirty days that time, in a wheelchair, fulltime oxygen. It was tough times for us. One day the doc came into my room and asked if I was interested in a heart and lung transplant. And, we didn't even understand what the heart component was. The heart/lung procedure was the most common procedure done for cystic fibrosis at the time Mr.

Rasmussen was transplanted. In the early years, the heart-lung transplant was the only way we had to actually do that operation. In 1981, we performed the first combined heart and lung transplant here at Stanford. The idea of doing a single lung transplant, or two lungs independently, took about three to four years to develop and perfect before it was possible on its own. It was the next morning that we got a phone call that, that they said they had a heart and lung for Steve. We understood that the lungs and the heart had to go as a block together to make it quick, more efficient. So, that wasn't a surprise, but the issue of me giving my heart to another person, didn't come out until probably an hour before the actual surgery.

It was like "Of course, that's great." Getting home after the heart and lung transplant I was a new man. I could breathe huge breaths without coughing. And that's never been that way in my life that I could remember. It was unbelievable. When they first did the transplant, they told Steve -- the life expectancy was five years. But after he came out of the transplant, he was so healthy, and our lives were amazing. We did everything.

We went skiing. We lived like a normal family. So when those five years came, it wasn't like, "Oh, it's been five years." Steve was so healthy. The very long survivors are a very fascinating group. Mr. Rasmussen and other handful of long term survivors, just seem to have no rejection whatsoever.

Stanford Heart-Lung Transplant: Steve Rasmussen's story

So, there's some differences in the immune system of these recipients, or something about the combination between recipient donor that determine which pathway they're going to be in. The patients that survive a long time after lung transplants seem to have some similar characteristics. One of them is a strict adherence to their medical regimen and exercise regimen. There's been a lot of improvements that, I think, have helped the viability of the organs after we transplant them. And then the post-operative regimen, I think, is also changed quite a bit. Life goes every day and I forget. And as the years go on, we're like, "Wow, it's another year." Every anniversary is huge.

We just live every day. And then, something happens again and it's cancer, it's surgery, it's chemo, and then he comes out of it again. It didn't matter what statistics said. It mattered that, that we would never give up that we're gonna grow old together, and go together, because we do everything together.

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