Patient Stories - Heart Failure & Transplant Program
Date: May 16, 1996
Age at Transplant: 56
Home: Sacramento, CA
Bob Jennings' first signs of heart problems occurred in late 1994 when he experienced shortness of breath and a bad cold. Bob's doctor suggested he have a heart catheterization because his symptoms weren't improving and his energy level had sharply declined. The results of the catheterization showed that Bob had cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart loses its ability to pump blood and can result in irregular heartbeats or arrhythmias.
"Up until that time, I had been very active--refereeing high school football on the weekends and working full time," says Bob. "But once I got sick, I couldn't even walk across the room."
After his diagnosis, Bob participated in a research trial to test a new heart medication. It helped for a while, but several months later, he collapsed at home and the paramedics rushed him to the hospital. "I was taken by ambulance from Sacramento to San Francisco because I needed a heart transplant to live," Bob explains. "They were able to stabilize me at California Pacific Medical Center and my name was added to the transplant waiting list on December 29, 1995."
Bob returned home once he felt better, but made regular visits to the hospital to have his health checked while waiting for his transplant. During one clinic visit, Bob's physician, Dr. Ernie Haeusslein, noticed that his blood pressure had dropped to 60/40 and his heart rate was beating at 140 to 150 beats per minute, both dangerous levels. Dr. Haeusslein immediately admitted Bob to the hospital and elevated his transplant status to "1," the most critical listing.
"I waited in the hospital about three weeks for a heart," says Bob. "And it was a struggle waiting for it to happen--not knowing if today is the day and also not knowing how it would all turn out."
On the evening of May 16, Bob had just begun dinner when the nurse told him to stop eating--a heart had become available. He paged his family in Sacramento and went into surgery at 5:30 a.m. "When I woke up, the worst part was having the breathing tube in," he says. "My hands were so swollen that I couldn't write and with the breathing tube, I couldn't communicate with anyone around me." Within a day after his operation, however, Bob's breathing tube came out and he could talk to his family about everything.
Bob spent 10 days recovering in the hospital and then lived in a nearby patient apartment for one month, so his transplant team could monitor his recovery. During this time, he learned about the immunosuppressive medications he'd need to take for preventing rejection and started to get a routine established.
"When I was waiting for my transplant, one of the nurses told me, "This surgery isn't going to solve all your problems--it will actually give you a new set of problems, but they will be manageable with medications and the like," explains Bob. "I've kept that in mind ever since. Today, I'm on dialysis and in the process of getting listed for a kidney transplant because one of the medications affected my kidney function. But I'm determined and will keep fighting, always keeping an optimistic outlook and expecting the best."
Bob praises his California Pacific heart team who continue to care for him during follow up visits. "The quality of the hospital staff is so important, and it's a great experience having the physicians and nurses at California Pacific care for you," he says. "And after the transplant, their follow up care is outstanding. They don't drop you once you've had the surgery--they're always there for me and I know I can call Joe, Dolores or Ernie at any time."
Today, four years after his transplant, Bob is back at work and he and his wife volunteer with Golden State Donor Services to help increase awareness about organ donation. Bob says, "I've been through my ups and downs, but my mantra--and advice to others--is to never give up."
CPMC Heart and Vascular Center
California Pacific's Heart and Vascular Center is supported by one of the best heart hospital/center networks in the USA, offering quality, comprehensive patient-centered cardiovascular care by a team of top heart surgeons and physicians with leading-edge technology. Serving the entire San Francisco Bay Area, including San Francisco and Marin County, as well as the entire Northern California region, our team has many of the best cardiovascular surgeons and physicians in California and the United States.