And the beat goes on: Heart transplant patients, surgeons reunite

Constance Murray, who underwent a heart transplant in 1986, is embraced by Dr. John Pennock, the surgeon who performed the surgery, at Hershey Medical Center’s annual heart transplant reunion. Credit: Penn State Health / Penn StateCreative Commons

HERSHEY, Pa. — To Constance Murray, heart transplantation sounded like something out of science fiction movie — one she certainly didn’t care to star in.

It was 1986, and Murray had struggled for more than a year with shortness of breath when she climbed stairs or walked even a short distance. Her symptoms were steadily worsening.

When a diagnosis of congestive cardiomyopathy was made, Murray faced two choices — medications that had about a 1 percent chance of working or a heart transplant.

“Heart transplant surgery was new then,” the New Cumberland resident said. “I had read about people dying after it. I said ‘no.’ I couldn’t handle the thought of that.”

Things only worsened.

“I had so many brushes with death and was rushed to the hospital several times,” Murray said. “My husband, Jack, finally said, ‘What do you have to lose?’”

Murray was an excellent candidate because she had no other health problems.

Fast-forward 33 years and Murray, now 80, can’t believe she ever considered passing up the gift of life that transplantation gave to her.

“I’m definitely glad I did it,” said Murray, who fought challenges from the first anti-rejection drug she took but now tolerates a newer one very well. “Most of my health problems since then haven’t been from my heart — they’ve been orthopedic.”

At this year’s annual reunion of heart transplant patients, each wore a number designating their place in the lineup of 518 heart transplant surgeries since Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center performed its first one in 1984.

Murray is No. 32 — and the longest-surviving transplanted patient at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

“Connie’s heart does spectacularly, and it’s always a joy to see her,” said Dr. John Boehmer, cardiologist and director of the heart failure program at the Medical Center. “We now have a cohort of eight octogenarians. Their immunosuppressants work well, and they deserve credit for taking their medicine religiously and keeping their appointments with us.”

Hershey Medical Center boasts a patient one-year survival rate of 100 percent in the most recent two-and-a-half-year cohort reported by the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients, Boehmer said. More than 200 heart transplant recipients currently receive follow-up care at the Medical Center and will for the rest of their lives.

Read the full article on Penn State Medicine.

Last Updated June 06, 2019