Stanford surgeons top own record with 86 heart transplants

PALO ALTO, Calif. (KGO) -- Doctors at Stanford are celebrating a remarkable accomplishment. And it seems all the more impressive considering that it happened in the shadow of the COVID-19 crisis. Even with that added pressure, surgeons managed to perform the most heart transplants ever recorded at Stanford.

One recipient was Tom Pugh, an avid cyclist, used to pushing his heart and lungs to the extreme. Sometimes riding 50 miles on a weekend with his wife. But early last year, his body pushed back.

"I had two heart attacks. The first one I didn't feel, the second took me down to my knees," says Pugh.

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Powerful enough to badly damage his left ventricle. Dr. Jeffrey Teuteberg, M.D., says the team at Stanford began planning for a heart transplant, at a time when pressure from the COVID-19 crisis was beginning to overwhelm hospitals in many parts of the country.

"So Tom came in pretty sick. Time is still of the essence. There still aren't enough hearts available for the people who are waiting for them. And getting hearts to the patients who are the sickest in a timely fashion is still a challenge," Dr. Teuteberg

After stabilizing Tom's condition, they began waiting for a donor's heart. At the same time, Stanford hospital was working through tight new COVID-19 protocols, testing doctors and nurses, controlling face to face contact, and at times limiting staffing to just essential personnel.

Finally, after weeks of waiting, Tom got the call.

"And then they said here's a donor's heart do you want it? And I said yes, I'll be there right now," he remembers.

Stanford surgeons, Including Dr. Joseph Woo, soon began the delicate process of transplanting Tom with a new heart, but he wouldn't be alone. Over the course of the year, in the shadow of the COVID-19 crisis, the team would perform a Stanford record 86 heart transplants. At least 18 of those were combination procedures including, heart-kidney, heart-liver, and heart-lung transplants. A massive effort, with support across Stanford's hospital and clinics.

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"Yeah, I mean we're really proud of the team, and like all transplants, a heart transplant is a team effort," says Dr. Teuteberg.

A team effort that's given Tom Pugh a chance to potentially return to the sport he loves. With plans to ultimately tour the west with his wife.

"We're going to go up and down the West Coast. We may venture into the rest of the country, but there are so many beautiful things in California," he says.

Tom has already started a rehabilitation program with his wife that he describes as a mini boot camp. All with the goal of building strength and getting back on his bike.

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