Sentara recently brought together more than 30 patients who are part of a very special club. They are all heart transplant recipients and as the program marked 25 years of existence, patients ranging from a few years post-transplant, to as many as 24 years of survival, came together to share experiences and count blessings.

Sentara Heart transplant program celebrates 25 years

Sentara Heart Hospital Exterior

Sentara recently brought together more than 30 patients who are part of a very special club. They are all heart transplant recipients and as the program marked 25 years of existence, patients  ranging from a few years post-transplant, to as many as 24 years of survival, came together to share experiences and count blessings.

“Once something like this happens, you have to do something good with your life,” said Richard Siff, the 200th recipient in the Sentara Heart® program 12 years ago, who started a non-profit organization that mentors students in the Chesapeake public schools. “I’ve been having a blessed life,” Siff said.

The words ‘blessed’ and ‘blessing’ were heard often in conversations at a reception for recipients and families at Sentara Heart Hospital who came to enjoy the camaraderie of a select group of individuals enjoying extended lives due to the generosity of organ donors.

“I’ve made friends with other patients through the program and I’ve been able to offer some words of encouragement,” said Brooke Briggs, the 300th recipient who’s fifth anniversary is in May. “I meet people when I come for clinic visits and we connect just sitting there in the waiting room.”

John Herre, M.D., a cardiologist in the Sentara Heart® transplant program, enjoys the lifelong relationships he develops with heart recipients, who require periodic clinic visits to monitor their progress. But he worries about the growing list of transplant candidates for whom donors may never be found, including 13 patients so sick they are at the highest priority level for transplant.

“Our list is three times as long as it was a few years ago,” said Dr. Herre. “There’s a huge shortage of donors that may not get any better, so mechanical circulatory support may have to be the solution for many patients in the future.”

Sentara Heart® offers mechanical support including left ventricular-assist devices known as L-VADs, and the SynCardia® total artificial heart, which can serve as a bridge to transplant, or, potentially, as lifelong therapy.

“I would not be surprised if, in a few years, mechanical support is found to be as good, or better, than transplant for some patients,” Dr. Herre said. “It may become an option patients choose.”