Change of Heart: A Story of Care

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Robert Perdomo never imagined that the rheumatic fever he contracted as a child in Cuba would lead to a heart transplant at Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans, La. more than six decades later.

Now 72 and living in Covington, La. with his wife of 50 years, Elena, Robert has been through a long medical journey. It began with the discovery of his fever-damaged mitral valve in 1996 and progressed through multiple cardiac surgeries, including ones at Ochsner to implant a defibrillator and a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), which helps the heart pump blood. In September 2015, after waiting more than a year for a donor heart, Robert underwent a heart transplant at Ochsner Medical Center performed by cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Michael Bates.

“We were about to go to church,” says Robert, a retired industrial sales manager, recalling that life-changing moment. “We got a phone call from a transplant coordinator who said, ‘We have a heart for you.’ ”

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“We were both crying as we were listening,” says Elena, a retired high school Spanish teacher. “The coordinator told us we had 20 minutes to pack a bag and leave for the hospital. We did the entire 35-mile drive without saying a word to each other.”

Robert was in the operating room for more than eight hours. The surgery went smoothly and he is recovering with no signs of rejection.

“It’s really rewarding for all the teams involved with his care to see him progressing,” says Dr. Bates. “He received a great donor heart that started working right away.”

Robert and his wife have made several contributions to the hospital in appreciation, focusing on patients in the LVAD program— donating both funds and medical supplies to support people experiencing similar challenges. “When you see some of the people in the LVAD group, it breaks your heart,” Robert says.

“The doctors and the nurses become part of your family,” adds Elena. “We feel so welcome there; it’s like going home.”

That familial atmosphere is part of Ochsner’s high standard of care. Lisa Tichenor, RN, at Ochsner Medical Center who coordinated Robert’s LVAD in 2014 and is one of Elena’s former students, likens her team to a bunch of mother hens. “We’re very close with our patients: We cry with them; we hold their hands. We do as much as we can to support them,” says Tichenor.

“I will never be able to give back enough for all they did for us,” Robert says, “but as long as we’re alive, we’re going to help out financially as much as we can.”

Shown in photo above: Robert and Elena Perdomo

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