VA Mid-Atlantic Health Care Network
Virginia Vet Receives New Heart
As many Veterans spent Veterans Day taking advantage of meals and discounts from local businesses recognizing their service and sacrifice, Glenn Ford, an Army Veteran and Virginia resident, came away with something much more valuable.
In the early hours of Nov. 11, Ford and his wife received the call they had been waiting on for nearly 12 years. He’d been selected to receive a new heart. “When the heart starts to go bad, you can’t even walk to your mailbox,” said Ford.
Ford received a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) in 2012 to supplement his failing heart. According to Dr. Gundars Katlaps, chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Richmond VAMC, LVADs are attached to patient hearts to improve their quality of life, and to act as a bridge for potential transplant recipients. LVADs can add years to a patient’s life, enabling them to enjoy it a little as well.
The Organ Procuring Organization (OPO) called the Fords at 12:30 a.m. to say they received a heart from a 28 year-old donor in Central Virginia.
“From the time the donor’s heart is harvested, it should ideally be implanted and working in the recipient within four hours,” said Lisa Martin, McGuire VAD coordinator. Indicating the urgency to complete the procedure quickly, she added, “This makes every action by the surgical team very important and each step has to be timed precisely.”
“When they called me, I got here in one hour. I was ready right away,” Ford said.
Still, transplantation isn’t guaranteed. “They offer the organ to several medical centers at the same time,” said Katlaps, “usually giving up to an hour to respond.”
The transplant program has many moving parts: patient, transplant team, harvesting team, OPO and the most important part, the donor. All must be in synchronicity to have a successful transplant.
It happened so fast, Ford’s daughter, Elisha a major in the Air Force, and his son, Charles who followed his footsteps as a sergeant in the Army could not get there.
Ford’s quality of life is already improving. “Life is great,” said Ford. “Now I get to do all the small things around the house.”
Veterans’ resiliency amazes Katlaps. That resiliency enabled Ford and his wife to return to their renovation projects. “That is her vacation,” he said. “She takes off of work, and we work around the house for an entire week,” said Ford.
Katherine Osbourne, Richmond’s heart transplant coordinator praised the transplant team, but noted, “It is important to realize that the real hero on Veterans Day was the donor and his family.”
VHA has offered organ transplant services since 1962 and bone marrow transplant services since 1982, with VA Transplant Centers located across the country, Richmond’s heart transplant program, which began in 1981 is still VA’s only in-house program. For more information regarding the VA National Transplant Program, please contact your VA specialist, primary care provider, or nearest VA medical facility.
Although Richmond provides this life-saving service to Veterans across the country, Osbourne is quick to acknowledge where the life-saving takes place. “You’ve got to understand that donors are the life and breath of an OPO.” Katlaps added that while the need for hearts has increased, the overall number of heart transplants has not changed significantly in two decades, because the number of available organs is dwindling.
“I got to go back to 28 with all of the wisdom I have,” Ford said. “If a 28 year-old has what I have, he would be the richest man in the world.”