Heart transplant

Brothers man in need of heart transplant

COVID-19 has affected everyone in one way or another.

Some have even experienced loss – loss in isolation, loss of jobs and even their lives.

Those waiting for an organ have wasted time, waiting on a list that could take years.

Michael Gramza of Brethren, Manistee County is one of those waiting for an organ to save his life.

“The emotional roller coaster is what it was,” says his wife, Jaime Gramza.

Gramza’s journey with heart failure began in 2019. In May of that year, an undeterminable virus attacked Mike’s heart, leaving the left side beating at just 10%. That’s when the defibrillator was put in, in case his heart stopped beating.

Fast forward two years, in September Gramza discovered he was suffering from advanced heart failure.

Another month passes and Gramza ends up in the hospital with excessive fluid buildup around his heart. He was readmitted in November and told he had end-stage heart failure. His heart would not last. He was then referred to Spectrum’s heart and lung transplant team in Grand Rapids.

Gramza qualified for an LVAD – left ventricular assist device – to pump blood from the lower left heart chamber to the rest of his body. It was then that he was placed on the waiting list for a heart transplant.

After two weeks of testing, Gramza passed its final tests in February. It was discovered that the right side of his heart function had also decreased significantly.

The night before the LVAD procedure, his heart went into cardiac arrhythmia preventing any further surgery. An impella heart pump was placed at the time to try and regulate the rhythm of his heart. The team also shocked his heart three times while trying to stabilize him.

Gramza is still recovering in the intensive care unit and if he shows any progress he can leave next week. He may be waiting in the hospital until he can be matched with a donor while he recovers.

“I haven’t left the hospital for three weeks,” says Jaime.

So the wait for a heart continues.

Gramza is known for his fun and goofy personality. He is also a car enthusiast. When needed, he can be found tinkering with the cars in his garage.

“He always jokes about something and makes me laugh about something,” Jaime says. “I mean, he comes back and he tries to crack jokes, and little jokes to him matter. It’s a Mike joke. He always tries to make people laugh.

Gramza is also one of approximately 2,500 people in Michigan waiting for an organ. It’s a growing list due to COVID-19 delaying transplants.

“The direct impact on wait time was probably the kind of slowing down of the transplant, as the transplant experts tried to make sure it was safe,” said Bruce Nicely, vice president of clinical operations. from Gift of Life Michigan. And so it definitely lengthened the wait time, if you will, but for a very, very important reason because we had to be sure we didn’t infect the recipient with COVID19.

Gift of Life, which works to provide support to donors, recipients and their families, had to make adjustments at the start of the pandemic according to Nicely.

People who were on that waiting list stayed there,” says Nicely. “At first, the COVID pandemic hampered donations a bit because we were learning. We did not know the implications for the infectious levels and how it spread and so on.

Although transplants have decreased, the number of referrals has increased. In fact, the organization had two banner years for donors.

For a recipient like Gramza, several factors come into play when it comes to being a recipient. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 in January, which can affect the heart and lungs, making them weaker and more difficult to recover in the long term after surgery.

“We know, without a doubt, that COVID-19 affects the lungs,” says Nicely. “There was early evidence that it could have an impact on the heart, even in young people. If we’re considering transplanting an organ into a recipient to save their life, the last thing we want to do is jeopardize their overall health with a virus like this.

Gramza And Mm CarDoctors told Gramzas that a virus had attacked Mike’s heart. It is possible, according to Jaime, that the virus was his COVID diagnosis.

“There’s the muscle damage to the blood flowing, and that’s exactly where it started,” says Jaime. “So again, nobody’s really giving us a concrete answer, and I don’t know why, but here we are.”

Gramza was placed seventh on the waiting list – the bottom end – until he recovered from his last operation. He may be able to go to three or four, but his medical history and recovery will be taken into account.

People added to the waitlist get points, if you will, for things like the severity of their illness, the length of the wait…a number of factors come into play,” says Nicely. “I know from a transplant perspective, [it] wouldn’t prevent that from the patient. There would, however, be a careful assessment of how the patient recovered from COVID-19. How well their body would be able to accept the donated organ. Be able to manage the health care plan that accompanies post-transplant care. So there are a host of variables that go into this equation. At this point, I don’t know anywhere in the transplant community that COVID-19 is a deterrent to transplant. This is a factor to be considered in long-term care.

There are still many donors affected by COVID-19, impacting recipients. There is still caution for gifts of the heart. The liver and kidneys, and to some extent the pancreas, are returning to pre-pandemic levels in terms of the number of transplants.

For Michael Gramza and his family, they are praying for his recovery and time will be on their side.

“I just try to stay positive almost every day,” says Jaime. “He is slowly improving and hopefully in three months we will be higher. We get that phone call and come back.

You can register to become a donor here.

A GoFundMe has been set up to help the Gramza family with their medical bills.