MCG's 1st heart transplant comes in time to save man

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Freddie McCullum and his wife, Shirley, got to celebrate their second anniversary Tuesday, and now he can look forward to his 42nd birthday Friday, thanks to the heart of a stranger.

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Freddie McCullum undergoes respiratory therapy administered by Mark Williams while his wife, Shirley, talks about his heart transplant operation at Medical College of Georgia Hospital. The couple prayed for a heart and for the donor's family.  Kendrick Brinson/Staff
Kendrick Brinson/Staff
Freddie McCullum undergoes respiratory therapy administered by Mark Williams while his wife, Shirley, talks about his heart transplant operation at Medical College of Georgia Hospital. The couple prayed for a heart and for the donor's family.

Mr. McCullum was days away from death last week when he became the first heart transplant patient in the history of Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics.

"We've got anniversary and birthday all rolled up into one," Mrs. McCullum said. "April will be our blessed month."

The transplant culminated a five-year effort by the health system and transplant surgeon Kevin Landolfo to bring the service to Augusta, which would make it the only program in the area outside of Atlanta or Charleston, S.C. There are 76 patients waiting for a heart transplant in Georgia and 11 waiting in South Carolina, with most waiting more than a year, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. Nationally, there were 2,210 heart transplants performed last year, but 317 patients died awaiting a new heart.

University Hospital did three heart transplants in the late 1980s but found that so few cases couldn't justify the expense when patients were more likely to have better outcomes at busier centers, said Marilyn Bowcutt, the vice president for patient care services.

In MCG's case, it has been a matter of assembling all the people and pieces it needed, said Dr. Landolfo, the director of the heart transplant program and chairman of cardiothoracic and vascular surgery.

"It's not really one surgeon or one physician. It requires a lot of specialized personnel," he said. "These people require very intensive social and follow-up care for almost every facet of their lives."

Because of the high costs of the medications transplant patients must take for the rest of their lives, the McCullums, of Stone Mountain, had been turned down by an Atlanta transplant program after Freddie lost his insurance and they couldn't raise the necessary financial commitment, Mrs. McCullum said. But they were able to work out it out with MCG, she said.

"God made a way for us to come here," Mrs. McCullum said. "He made a way for him to get the surgery. I call it a miracle."

Dr. Landolfo calls it a commitment from the institution to make the transplant program happen.

"We're in a fortunate position as we're trying to develop and grow this that the institution is making more resources available," he said.

And it could not have come a moment too soon. Mr. McCullum was in intensive care in severe congestive heart failure, being kept alive by intravenous medication, when the donor heart became available.

"He was day to day, critically ill," said Chandra Kunavarapu, the congestive heart failure transplant cardiologist.

"Definitely less than a week," said transplant surgeon Vijay S. Patel. "I think he almost died."

Because the donor heart was in Atlanta, and the heart can only survive four hours outside the body, the teams involved had to be coordinated and timed perfectly, Dr. Landolfo said. Then came the dramatic moment, after the ailing heart has been taken out and the new one sutured into place.

"And it's very quiet, because the heart is still. And usually the room is very quiet," Dr. Landolfo said. "And initially the heart doesn't do anything. And slowly the heart really comes alive, it starts to beat, and it starts to beat with more force. It's a very remarkable and magic event."

The change is evident a week later in Mr. McCullum.

"My whole body feels stronger. I've got the appetite I used to have when I first got sick," said Mr. McCullum, who lost 50 pounds.

He said there is no doubt in his mind what he will do next.

"Do the work that the Lord wants me to do," he said. "That's the reason why I'm here, to do his work."

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.

ANATOMY OF A TRANSPLANT


It took an "orchestra" of skilled personnel to get a donated heart from a hospital in Atlanta into Freddie McCullum at Medical College of Georgia Hospital, said transplant surgeon Kevin Landolfo.


- Once the family gives consent, the donor's information goes to a national clearinghouse, which turns to the waiting list of those who need a heart. Patients are matched by blood group and size with the donor, and location, and also ranked by the severity of illness. Mr. McCullum was so sick he went to the top of the list.


- The clearinghouse contacts MCG Hospital, and the surgeon has to accept the organ.


- The team has to coordinate with others who are receiving organs from the donor to set up a time for the operation.


- A plane is called, and Dr. Vijay Patel heads to Atlanta to remove the heart. Timing is critical, because the heart remains viable only for four hours outside the body.


- While Dr. Chandra Kunavarapu gets Mr. McCullum ready for surgery, Dr. Landolfo preps the operating room. By the time Dr. Patel starts to remove the heart, Dr. Landolfo has Mr. McCullum in surgery.


- As Dr. Patel is en route, Mr. McCullum is on heart-lung bypass and prepped up to the point of removing his heart.


- The moment Dr. Patel enters the hospital, Dr. Landolfo starts to remove the ailing heart. Dr. Patel and Dr. Landolfo then take the new heart, sew it into place and take off the clamp that allows blood to flow into it.


- After a slight hesitation, the heart begins beating. About three hours have elapsed since it was removed from the donor.

Comments (30) Add comment
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nonumberplease
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nonumberplease 04/17/08 - 04:39 am
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Dr. Landolfo is one of the

Dr. Landolfo is one of the nicest doctors I have ever met and he
is truly the "A" team when it comes to heart surgery. My wife was
fortunate to have his team and she is doing wonderful with her
by-pass surgery. Kudos to cardio and vascular dept. you are truly
the best.

katydid
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katydid 04/17/08 - 07:06 am
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we are so fortunate to have

we are so fortunate to have MCG right in our town. Both Landolfo's are fine cardiologists

lovingmom
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lovingmom 04/17/08 - 07:24 am
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Thank you MCG. When my

Thank you MCG. When my husband underwent emergency surgery and was told he would need cancer treatments, University hospital would not even consider financial assistance because we had insurance (even though it covered very little). Thanks to MCG, my husband received treatment. MCG filed on our insurance and wrote off what the insurance did not pay. He died after fighting for his life for 3-1/2 years -- 3-1/2 years we would not have had if not for MCG and their staff caring. Also, a great big thank you for St. Joseph hospice. You made his last days as comfortable as possible.

ramble
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ramble 04/17/08 - 09:02 am
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What a wonderful,

What a wonderful, inspirational story. How lucky this patient was to have found MCG and such a team of professionals. MCG is a fantastic hospital and we are lucky to have such an institution here in Augusta. People of the CSRA should recognize and appreciate that. If MCG can so successfully run a heart transplant program, then I feel completely comfortable with being treated there for any problem. Way to go!

critter
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critter 04/17/08 - 09:18 am
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Another great milestone!

Another great milestone! Bravo!

jackfruitpaper833
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jackfruitpaper833 04/17/08 - 10:03 am
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Now if they can just get rid

Now if they can just get rid of Don Snell and Hal Scott.

ruhappy
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ruhappy 04/17/08 - 10:41 am
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jackfruitpaper833, I agree.

jackfruitpaper833, I agree. MCG needs a CEO with some people skills. I haven't meet anyone at MCG that has respect for Don Snell other than the ones that brown nose him.

Happyheart
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Happyheart 04/17/08 - 10:49 am
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Actually University hospital

Actually University hospital did 29 Heart transplants, 3 Heart-Lung tranplants and 1 double Lung transplant between June 1984 and November 1988.

JustLilMe
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JustLilMe 04/17/08 - 11:22 am
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MCG excels at trauma care

MCG excels at trauma care too, being the only Level One trauma center in the area!

JimCox
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JimCox 04/17/08 - 01:49 pm
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When it comes to medical

When it comes to medical procedures, I hope I am never the first one at any facility!

mable8
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mable8 04/17/08 - 02:39 pm
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Nice for MCG to perform a

Nice for MCG to perform a transplant. However, I would prefer to have one done at Emory. MCG does NOT treat all patients fairly or with respect; I speak from my own personal observations at that establishment. Far as I am concerned, MCG is one of the worst hospitals around.

member
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member 04/17/08 - 03:52 pm
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if you read between the lines

if you read between the lines mable8, emory turned them down.

hisfaith2003
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hisfaith2003 04/18/08 - 12:54 am
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I think that Mr. Mccullum

I think that Mr. Mccullum should feel like a blessed man and to the family that donated there families heart to help someone else was a blessing and i really hope the recipant takes care of his gift and do what he says. Someone helped you and you where spared to help someone else... stay blessed and god will take care of the rest...congradulations to Mr. McCullian and my prayers goes out to the family that donated.

mable8
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mable8 04/18/08 - 01:00 am
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Member: Patients who need

Member: Patients who need transplants are tunred down for several reasons. If the patient has another life-threatening illness (cancer, perhaps) or refuses to comply with the various requisites necessary for successful transplantation, or is excessively obese (this shortens not only the lifespan, but has something to do with organ rejection in the long run), then no decent hospital will do the transplantation. I know this simply because I used to make transplantation referrals. There is no information provided as to why the Atlanta hospital turned this particular patient down. MCG is in need of publicity, what better way to achieve that goal. I still say MCG is one of the worst hospitals around.

critter
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critter 04/18/08 - 08:32 am
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And since this is MCG's very

And since this is MCG's very first heart transplant, I sincerely doubt that they would've picked a patient who wasn't a prime candidate for successful transplantation. If you used to make transplantation referrals, then you should know that as well.

KSL
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KSL 04/18/08 - 01:11 pm
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Dr. Landolfo is an exellent

Dr. Landolfo is an exellent surgeon with tremendous experience in heart transplants and other cardiovascular surgery. And he has a terrific "bedside manner." He has demonstrated that he can and does assemble excellent people for his teams. The CSRA and MCG are truly fortunate.

KSL
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KSL 04/18/08 - 02:31 pm
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Just for you, mable8. Right

Just for you, mable8. Right out of the above article. "Because of the high costs of the medications transplant patients must take for the rest of their lives, the McCullums, of Stone Mountain, had been turned down by an Atlanta transplant program after Freddie lost his insurance and they couldn't raise the necessary financial commitment, Mrs. McCullum said. But they were able to work out it out with MCG, she said."

JustLilMe
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JustLilMe 04/18/08 - 02:36 pm
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I sadly note that in all the

I sadly note that in all the press about this transplant, not one nurse appears to be mentioned? People don't go to hospitals for 24 hours a day physician care-they are admitted there to get the care of nurses!

KSL
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KSL 04/18/08 - 03:27 pm
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JustLilMe, I considered the

JustLilMe, I considered the nurses to be part of the team, as well. The ICU and CCU nurses were great as were all of them. The Residents were awesome as well. Our entire experience with MCG was awesome.

mable8
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mable8 04/18/08 - 11:37 pm
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kathysue and critter: just

kathysue and critter: just for you, MCG also turns people away for lack of funds, regardless of the illness or the patient needs. Transplantation is an expensive procedure and so is the after care because the individual absolutely must take antirejection medication the remainder of his/her life. Neither the Federal nor State government will provide life-long medication for this, so how will the patient pay for the costly medication? MCG is a failure as a hospital in my opinion; they need all the publicity that they can get. Just as you are entitled to your opinions, so am I--if you wish to disagree, then so be it.

KSL
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KSL 04/19/08 - 12:12 am
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mable, I'm going on the

mable, I'm going on the experience we had and the wonderful care given to my husband. You obviously had a different experience. Our opinions should first and foremost be based on our own personal experiences, wouldn't you agree. I also had to use their services when I was there with him. Part of the reason we chose MCG was because Dr. Landolfo had recently come there from Duke. Our Aiken doctors had held him in high enough esteem while he was at Duke to send another Aiken doctor to him there. I have not the first complaint about anything that we experienced with MCG, from the pre-op consultation to his dismisal from the hospital. (He was there for 3.5 days)

KSL
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KSL 04/19/08 - 12:18 am
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And mable, I don't want to

And mable, I don't want to seem confrontational, but I had an uncle who was a heart surgeon. He studied under DeBakey and Cooley in the late 50's or early 60's when they were first doing transplants.My uncle was doing open heart surgery on a dailey basis in 1965.

KSL
118809
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KSL 04/19/08 - 12:24 am
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MCG did not fail us. Do not

MCG did not fail us. Do not expect us to accept your opinion of them. And you can criticize them to the cows come home. It will fall on deaf ears as far as we are concerned. Your criticisms don't amount to a hill of beans with me. For one thing, you have given no specifics. I remember your general criticism of them on another occasion. All I can say is that I'm sorry you had a bad experience(s). WE DID NOT.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 04/19/08 - 06:39 am
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Happyheart, actually the

Happyheart, actually the cardiac surgeon from University did the transplants at MCG in the 80's. The program closed because of poor results. Transplants are not that big of a deal anymore.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 04/19/08 - 06:41 am
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I wonder if the Athens

I wonder if the Athens hospital working with the new medical school there will want funding for a transplant program? There is only so much money to go around you know.

critter
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critter 04/19/08 - 02:22 pm
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You have every right to your

You have every right to your opinion - fire away! All I was pointing out was that since you used to do transplantation referrals, then you should know that for their very first heart transplant, they're going to pick the best candidate for the surgery. They're also doing the first 8 transplants for free. Is it for publicity? I'm sure it is - what kind of idiot would do something like this and not sing from the rafters about it? I'm also sure if they just wanted publicity, there are many cheaper ways to obtain it. Like kathysue, I'm sorry you have had some type of bad experience with MCG. They don't walk on water, they do make mistakes, but then again, you can say that about every single hospital in this area.

keishaagee
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keishaagee 04/29/08 - 07:52 pm
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I would like to first and for

I would like to first and for most thank god for letting the surgery be a success for my father i would like to also thank the doctors i love my daddy very much lakeisha agee freddie mccullum is my father

keishaagee
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keishaagee 05/01/08 - 08:47 am
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loving my father, Although i

loving my father, Although i may have not been able to be up there with my daddy during his surgery, i know that god was wtching over him and keeping safe. If it wasnt for the lord it would have not been imposible for the great surgeon to save my father. I really and truly would like to thank dr. landolfo for a job well done. he is truley an inspiration. Daddy i love you and i hope you get to be here many more years with us and to see your grand kids grow up! I also would like to thank my step mom shirley for being there for my father. most women would give up because it would to much for them to handle but i know that she will never leave his side because she is a very wonderful person and i love her for that! Daddy your grand kids daniylah and keshaun loves you and wants you to continue to fight and stay right by the lord.

DMitchell
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DMitchell 05/06/08 - 01:51 pm
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I found this article and I

I found this article and I want to tell you that my daughter died in Atlanta on Monday April 7th. She was 19 years old and the most precious person I have ever known. She was kept on lifesupport until Tuesday when they took her vital organs. I am not 100% postive if you are the one that received her organ but if you are I want you to know that you have the most amazing and giving heart. I miss her terribly but it comforts me to know that somewhere her heart is beating or that someone is breathing air into her lungs or someone is able to see through her beautiful eyes. Lets all remember what a gift we have and make sure that we leave them here for others. Sincerely, Donna

bmorman
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bmorman 05/06/08 - 03:45 pm
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We are pretty sure it was my

We are pretty sure it was my 19 year old niece's heart that Mr. McCullum received. She was a beautiful and precious girl who gave her whole life to serve others. Mr. McCullum, please know that God does have a plan and He gave you the biggest most loving heart we have ever known. Our only comfort is in knowing that she is in Heaven, with our Father, our Creator, and that we will all be together in Eternity. We will keep you in our prayers and ask that you do the same for us. Some things are just too difficult for our minds to conceive and this is defintely one of those times. Seeking His Kingdom, Aunt Brenda Ann

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