Quick collaboration from cardiac surgery team gets Knoxville man a new heart

Knoxville man urgently receives a new heart and a second chance at life at Ascension Saint Thomas Heart in Nashville, TN.

Robert, 53, had lived with premature ventricular contractions (PVCs) for most of his life. PVCs are extra heartbeats that disrupt a heart's rhythm. However, he was living life like anyone else. A true handyman, he enjoyed fixing cars and climbing on his roof to clean his gutters. After catching an infection that made his PVCs worse, Robert was diagnosed with congestive heart failure in 2017.

"My PVC attacked my entire heart. I went from a normal person's heart function to 20% heart function," he said.

Robert, who calls Knoxville, Tennessee home, underwent two cardiac ablations that helped him feel normal again. Six years later, what felt like a weeklong sinus infection turned into two weeks of symptoms that turned out to be heart failure. "I felt like I had taken a five-year step back because my heart was just sluggish," he said.

Robert, an environmental health, safety and sustainability professional, said his body felt like a car running out of gas. Still, he kept going to work, attended a conference and hoped rest would help him recharge. One day after completing a facility inspection for health and safety concerns, he felt worse, so Robert left work early to drive himself to the hospital. By the evening, Robert had ventricular tachycardia (V-tach), a fast, abnormal heart rhythm, and then his heart stopped. Once the doctors got his heart to start again, his heart was only functioning at 10%. Two days later, he went into V-tach again, and his heart was at 5%. Robert would need a heart transplant quickly.

Ascension Saint Thomas Heart got Robert in quickly after being transferred to Nashville by helicopter for heart transplant surgery. A leader in heart care in Tennessee, Ascension Saint Thomas Heart's transplant program remains one of the top in the country for patient outcomes and our wait times are the shortest in the region, according to The Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients (SRTR). Within four days of being on the heart transplant list, Robert received his new heart.

Ascension Saint Thomas Heart transplant care teams include advanced heart failure specialists, cardiac transplant surgeons, heart failure nurses and coordinators that helped Robert every step of the way to his recovery. "Everybody is just so good to me and very knowledgeable," he said. "That's why I just brag about the surgeons, the doctors and the ICU staff; everyone was just incredible throughout it all."

The cardiothoracic surgeon team included Ashok Babu, MD, Tunde Yerokun, MD, and Mark Tedder, MD, who worked with the advanced heart failure cardiologists John Barr Biglane, MD, Don Chomsky, MD, and Matthew deShazo, MD to create a care plan that incorporated a heart transplant match to follow-up care for Robert.

After his heart transplant surgery, Robert recovered in a home rental near the hospital to be close by to receive his post-transplant care after being discharged from the hospital. Now that he is back in Knoxville, he is looking forward to getting back into his routine, but for now, he continues to go on walks to move his body and enjoy the fresh air.

Leading heart transplant care

When you have advanced heart failure, traditional heart therapies may no longer work. Ascension Saint Thomas Heart will diagnose, treat and help you manage your condition.

Learn more about the heart transplant program.