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Heart transplant patients celebrate at Emory's Heart to Heart event

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Janet Christenbury
Sixty heart transplant recipients and eight patients waiting on the heart transplant list – all supported by their family members – celebrated life this weekend at Emory's 27th Annual Heart to Heart Celebration. Health care providers from the Emory Transplant Center greeted them with open arms.
February is known as the month to honor the heart. For Emory heart transplant patients, the celebration means thanking other families who gave the gift of life – so they could live. Each year, Heart to Heart draws the newest heart transplant patients, as well as those who have had their new heart for many years. They all attend to show their gratitude to the organ donors and their families for their lifesaving gifts.
Stephanie Harmon, from Summerville, GA, received her new heart in Dec. 2015. A surgical first assist in a Floyd County hospital, Harmon developed breathing problems after an illness in Dec. 2013. An emergency room doctor diagnosed her with heart failure and she was life-flighted to Emory Saint Joseph's Hospital, where she spent the next two months hospitalized. She went home with an LVAD (left ventricular assist device) in place, a surgically implanted, battery-operated, mechanical pump, which helps the left ventricle (main pumping chamber of the heart) pump blood to the rest of the body.
Eighteen months later, on Dec. 19, 2015, Harmon received the call from the Emory Transplant Center. They had a heart for her. "I couldn't believe it, I was in total shock and I couldn't move," says Harmon. "My husband instantly started packing our bags."
Three month after receiving her new heart, Harmon is doing well. Although it is still too early for her to reach out to her donor family, she is very appreciative of the life-saving gift she received.
Stockbridge resident Earnest Mitchell recently celebrated the one-and-a-half year anniversary of his new heart. After being diagnosed with heart disease in 2006, and then congestive heart failure in 2009, Mitchell and his wife began investigating treatment options for his weak heart. Little did they know that a heart transplant would be Mitchell's only option for survival.
Mitchell was admitted to Emory University Hospital's Cardiac Care Unit (CCU) for constant monitoring and medication to keep his heart functioning while he waited for his new heart. On August 14, 2014, after 139 days in the CCU, Mitchell learned there was a heart for him.
"I give honor and praise daily to my heart donor and his family," says Mitchell. "This date will always be bittersweet, because we understand that this time of celebration for us will always be a time of remembrance for them."
Mitchell met his donor family. After Mitchell's story was posted on Facebook, his donor family was able to track him down. Mitchell's wife, a real estate agent, sold a home four doors down from the donor family, without the Mitchells realizing the family lived on the same street as the house for sale. Mitchell says he is a new man with his new heart.
South African native turned Atlanta resident, Herbert Kuper, developed an abnormal heart rhythm after knee replacement surgery. Doctors determined Kuper had cardiac amyloidosis, or stiff heart syndrome, where clumps of proteins called amyloids take the place of normal heart muscle.
Kuper was placed on the heart transplant list, and received his new heart on Feb. 16, 2015. One year later, Kuper is doing well.
"I am so grateful for my heart donor and family," says Kuper. "I am also very appreciative of the amazing doctors and nursing staff at Emory University Hospital and Emory Saint Joseph's Hospital that cared for me while I was so sick."
According to Donate Life America, more than 123,000 men, women and children currently need lifesaving organ transplants. Every 10 minutes, another name is added to the national organ transplant waiting list.
"Signing up to be an organ donor is the first step adults can make to help others in need of lifesaving organ transplants," says Robert Cole, MD, assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology at Emory University School of Medicine. "As a heart failure and heart transplant specialist, it is important to celebrate the new lives of our patients each year because of a precious gift they received. It is also important to honor those families who gave selflessly, at a time of tragedy for them."
To learn more about organ donation and organ transplantation, visit Donate Life Georgia at or the Georgia Transplant Foundation at

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