St. Lucie County Man Is 100th To Receive a New Heart At Cleveland Clinic Florida

Dec 19, 2019

Xiaohua and Gary Pettit
Credit photo provided

The human body’s most vital function is one we basically never think of…

(Heartbeat)

Until it stops working….

(Flatline)

GP: I’m just the luckiest person there is, that’s all! (laughter)

That’s St Lucie County resident Gary Pettit. He is 72. In September, he was the 100th transplant patient to receive a healthy heart at Cleveland Clinic in the Weston/Ft Lauderdale-Miami area. We spoke to him by phone.

GP: You know I was ready to die. Because, you know, I was either gonna get a heart or I wasn’t going to be around.

For 11 years, Pettit lived with a heart condition called Cardiomyopathy.

GP: With cardiomyopathy, exercise doesn’t help your heart. Your heart just keeps getting bigger.

And now?

GP: I feel great. I mean, it’s one solid heart, I’ll tell you. I feel like a million dollars. I can’t believe. I mean the scar down my chest when it heals you won’t even see it. That’s how good a surgeon that Dr Sheffield is!

Dr. Cedric Sheffield, center, with colleagues celebrating the 100th heart transplant
Credit photo provided

CS: My name is Cedric Sheffield. I’m a cardiac surgeon and I am the surgical director of the Heart Transplant and Mechanical Circulatory Support Program at Cleveland Clinic Florida.

We ask him to describe the risks involved in such a procedure. He points out that one thing to note about patients who need heart transplants…

CS: They have risks before the procedure. This risk of not having heart transplant is very high. So, there is a tremendous risk of their underlying disease process. As a matter of fact, it is one of the highest risks for death diagnosis that there are; higher risk than for many cancers.

Pettit was first referred by his cardiologist and…

CS: …underwent a very detailed evaluation utilizing our multidisciplinary team.

That evaluation is designed to answer a number of questions…

CS: …but most important is what is the risk of heart transplantation for this patient compared to other therapies… such as medicine or conventional surgery…

So, it was determined that Pettit…

CS: …was a candidate for heart transplant. He would benefit and that his risk was acceptable.

And, he went on the wait list….

CS: And began the process of waiting to see when and whether a heart would become available…. In the meantime, he as many patients do, became sicker and sicker.

He was admitted to the hospital, because he was…

CS: …deteriorating and could no longer wait at home.

Finally, a heart became available. Which is nothing short of a miracle in itself because it can’t just be any heart…

CS: The blood type has to be compatible and size is an issue as well. And for a patient like this who is a very tall man, it can be challenging to find a donor heart that has the size that he needs.

Timing is critical too. From the time the donor heart stops to the time it starts again in the patient...

CS: Our target is to keep that time 4 hours or less.

Once they knew the heart was coming, they were able to get him prepped, and Pettit’s complete surgery itself took about 4 hours.

Sheffield stresses the need for people to become organ donors.

CS: One single organ donor can save the lives of 8 people. And transplantation of tissues, enhance the lives of as many of 75 people. Organ donation drives everything that we do. That’s the key for our patients including this one; having a chance to live a longer life, to live a better life.

He says nationally…

CS: We still have 4000 people waiting for transplants, for hearts alone. And almost 115,000 people waiting for other kinds of solid organ transplants.

Here’s Gary Pettit again:

GP: Thinking that somebody was gracious enough to give their heart to somebody else that just blows me away. I feel really bad for the family but as the same time the heart didn’t go to waste you know. It saved my life.

Learn more here:  https://my.clevelandclinic.org/florida/departments/transplant/depts/heart