Jeff Whitman’s life changed when his cell phone rang on the morning of Feb. 7. The 45-year-old man would have a new heart in less than 24 hours.
“We have a heart for you. This is the call you’ve been waiting for,” the Montefiore Einstein Center for Heart and Vascular Care transplant coordinator told Whitman.
“He came into my bedroom and he shook me,” said Denise Tristano Pascalis, a longtime friend who opened her home to Whitman when she learned he would need a strong support system before receiving a new heart. “Denise, we’ve got to go” Whitman told her. It was 5:30 a.m. “We’ve got to go. They have a heart for me.”
“This is happening. Oh my God,” Pascalis remembered thinking before rushing to dress and heading for the car. Whitman followed suit after packing some belongs and calling his sister, Kim.
“And of course I have no gas in the car,” said Pascalis, but it was early and the duo avoided traffic as they whizzed along the parkway making calls to family and friends.
They arrived at the hospital just after 7 a.m. “We weren’t sure where to go when we got to the hospital,” remembered Pascalis with a giggle. But they finally found the right department and Whitman was quickly met by cardiac transplant surgeon Dr. David D’Alessandro and hooked up with wires that lead to intravenous machines and a heart monitor.
Pascalis watched Whitman shake uncontrollably as they listened once again to Dr. D’Alessandro describe the open-chest procedure and the consequences that could include leaving Whitman’s chest cavity open for 24 hours to minimize high blood pressure.
“Rarely do I look forward to transplanting someone,” said Dr. D’Alessandro. “I was very happy it was me that night and it happened to be my birthday.”
It often takes patients one year before receiving a heart transplant. Whitman was placed on the list in October and had a new heart before Valentine’s Day.
Dr. D’Alessandro explained that being on chronic anti-infection medications moved him up. Whitman had a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), defibrillator and pacemaker keeping him alive.