UCSF heart transplant reunion coincides with National Heart Failure Awareness Week

By Rebecca Sladek Nowlis

When Nancy Pedder found it difficult to breathe when she swam, she had no idea
that she was having heart failure.  After all, she had just finished
chemotherapy a few weeks earlier for breast cancer.  Pedder soon became the
first woman, and third person, to receive a heart transplant at UCSF.  This
Saturday, she will celebrate her second heart by going back to the people who
made it possible 11 years ago.

Pedder, along with other former UCSF transplant patients, will celebrate her
triumph and share her story at the 11th annual UCSF heart and lung transplant
anniversary party on Saturday, February 12 between 5 PM and 9 PM.  Media are
invited to attend.

“It’s inspirational to meet other people who have successfully gone through a
heart transplant,” said Pedder, author of A Matter of Heart: One Woman’s
Triumph Over Breast Cancer and Heart Transplant.  “I also think it’s helpful to
people who are waiting for a heart to see that transplant patients do get their
lives back together.”

Like many people, Pedder didn’t recognize her symptoms of heart failure. 
Neither did Jim Ahern, a San Francisco fireman for 20 years who went on to
study law and speech communications.  Despite a previous triple bypass surgery
and a problem with arrhythmia, Ahern didn’t realize he was having congestive
heart failure in the spring of 1999.

“In the end, I couldn’t walk a block without getting tired,” said Ahern.  “But
I just didn’t put two and two together.  Only until my cardiologist told me I
was experiencing heart failure could I look back and realize that all the
symptoms were there.”

In an effort to raise awareness of heart failure symptoms, February 14 to
February 19 has been designated the first-ever National Heart Failure Awareness
Week by the Heart Failure Society of America with Congressional support.  Heart
failure affects nearly 5 million Americans and causes or contributes to a
quarter of a million deaths each year.  It is a progressive condition in which
the heart muscle weakens and gradually loses its ability to pump enough blood
to supply the body’s needs.  Because more people are surviving heart attacks
but being left with weakened hearts, heart failure is the only major
cardiovascular disorder on the rise.  Between 400,000 to 700,000 new cases are
reported every year.

“Heart failure is a significant problem in the United States and is becoming a
major epidemic,” said Teresa De Marco, MD, FACC, associate professor of
medicine and director of the UCSF Heart Failure and pulmonary hypertension
programs.  “If caught in its early stages, the progression of heart failure can
be slowed through aggressive medical intervention and can postpone or abolish
the need for heart transplantation.  The general public as well as primary care
physicians need to raise their awareness of heart failure symptoms so that
appropriate diagnostic testing and treatment can be instituted early.”

In order to address the rising incidence of heart failure, UCSF is launching a
unique center, and the first in the United States, that will care for the heart
failure patient with a comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach.  Called
the Cardiomyopathy and Arrhythmia Research and Education (CARE) Center, its
purpose is to integrate the effort of all the various UCSF physicians and nurse
specialists who treat heart failure into one care team.

“At UCSF, our mission is to provide each heart failure patient with treatments
which will slow disease progression, prolong survival, and improve quality of
life,” said Leslie Saxon, MD, associate professor of medicine and acting chief
of electrophysiology.  “The CARE Center will provide access to standard and
cutting edge therapies in an environment that is supportive, professional, and

One unique aspect of the center will be a comprehensive website devoted to
transmitting up-to-date information on all aspects of heart failure, including
the latest therapies, cutting edge devices, and drug trials.  In addition, the
site will give patients the opportunity to discuss their condition and medical
test results with UCSF physicians in a chat room format.  “Our hope is to
elevate the doctor-patient relationship to a new level and to develop a website
that truly serves the needs of both.”

The new center will only increase what is already top-notch care provided at
UCSF, which both Pedder and Ahern can attest to.  “The care I received at UCSF
was unbelievable,” said Pedder,  “and I can’t say enough about the transplant
team.  But I am looking forward to going to UCSF for something that’s not
medically related.  I’m now absolutely living a normal life.”