Emory performs first triple organ transplant in Georgia

By Janet Christenbury | Woodruff Health Sciences Center | Dec. 19, 2012

In 2012, Emory University Hospital's Transplant Center successfully performed the first triple organ transplant in Georgia.

A 38-year-old mother of two is celebrating Christmas with a renewed spirit of hope and thankfulness this year. Just five months ago, Stephanie Lindstrom received a triple organ transplant at Emory University Hospital, the first triple organ transplant ever to be performed in the state of Georgia.  

Following a lifetime battle of congenital heart complications, Lindstrom's condition turned critical this summer when she was told she would need more than a new heart; she would need a new liver and kidney, too. All other interventions to help her were not successful.

"A double transplant involving the heart and liver are extremely rare, with less than 60 of them ever performed in the U.S." says Stuart Knechtle, professor of surgery at Emory University School of Medicine and director of the Adult Liver Transplantation Program. "Because of Stephanie's heart failure, she developed liver failure. Then she became septic, which led to damage to kidney failure. So a triple organ transplant was our only hope to save her." 

The former marathon runner was born without a tricuspid valve, which helps move blood through the heart in the right direction. Lindstrom had four surgeries as a child to repair the problem. After graduating from college, more valve problems occurred, but this time, with the mitral valve. Doctors diagnosed her with mitral valve regurgitation and said it needed to be corrected.  

Lindstrom, who lives in South Carolina, scheduled an appointment with Wendy Book, associate professor of medicine at Emory and medical director of Emory's Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program. "When I first met Stephanie, I immediately knew she was a resilient, strong willed person who was a fighter," says Book. "We knew her heart and liver were in bad shape because of her congenital complications, but problems with her kidney had not yet surfaced." 

In September 2011, Lindstrom was placed on the waiting list for a heart and a liver. In May 2012, she contracted cytomegalovirus, was hospitalized and put on dialysis and breathing machines. At that point, Lindstrom was moved up on the waiting list for her new organs, which now included a kidney.  

On July 7, 2012, doctors got the call that a match had been found for Lindstrom. On that day, both her heart and liver were transplanted during a lengthy surgery.

First Brian Kogon, MD, surgical director of the Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program transplanted her new heart, assisted by David Vega, MD, director of Emory's Heart Transplant Program. Then Knechtle and transplant surgeon Andrew Adams, transplanted the liver. The following day, Knechtle transplanted her kidney. All three organs came from the same donor.  

"The risks for a triple organ transplant are very high for a patient with a three-system failure, and one we had never attempted before," says Kogon. "Her previous surgeries and critically-ill state at the time of the transplants made things challenging. But Mrs. Lindstrom's age and determination to survive made her an ideal candidate for these procedures." 

Lindstrom spent the next three months at Emory University Hospital recovering, while battling complications. She was finally able to go home in October 2012, five months after she was admitted.  

"I am so grateful to the doctors, nurses and support staff who made these transplants possible," says Lindstrom. "They have given me a new lease on life. The holiday season has truly taken on such a special meaning to my family and me this year because of the many gifts we have been given."