Heart transplant

Leawood vet becomes Saint Luc’s 900th heart transplant recipient

As Leawood’s beloved veterinarian, deacon in his local church, and active husband, father and grandfather, Stephen White’s heart was full of love. No one, not even Stephen himself, would have guessed that he was living with a disease that was slowly destroying his heart.

Stephen and his wife Lisa live in Leawood, Kansas. Together, they raised two daughters, Kimberly and Catherine, and are proud grandparents. Stephen’s heart problems began at the age of 28 after passing out on one of his first dates with Lisa. He went to the hospital and found out that he had a genetic mutation that made him prone to a blockage of the heart conduction system and possible heart failure. He probably inherited it from his father, who died of cardiomyopathy at the age of 64. This discovery led him to see Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute cardiologist James O’Keefe, MD, whom he still sees regularly.

“I’ve had pacemakers and all kinds of procedures,” Stephen said. “But I have lived a relatively normal and active life working and raising a family.”

Everything was under control with Stephen’s heart health until August 2020. He woke up one day, went through his normal daily routine and suddenly felt dizzy during breakfast. It didn’t go away, and he knew something was wrong. Lisa called paramedics, who identified Stephen as suffering from ventricular tachycardia, a condition in which the lower chambers of the heart beat abnormally fast. They tried to stop him with medication, but was unsuccessful, so they took him to Saint Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City. At this point, Dr O’Keefe suggested Stephen might have to consider a heart transplant because his heart was failing and the potentially fatal arrhythmia could recur.

“I’m lucky because I could have driven to work,” Stephen said. “If that hadn’t happened and I continued to brood, maybe something worse would have happened or they wouldn’t have thought about the transplant yet. It is the mercy of God.

Dr O’Keefe referred Stephen to the Saint Luke heart transplant program led by surgeons Michael Borkon, MD and Jessica Heimes, MD and cardiologists Andrew Kao, MD and Taiyeb Khumri, MD. Because he had no other medical or surgical options and was otherwise a good candidate, he was placed on the waiting list for a transplant. Unfortunately, his heart continued to deteriorate while waiting for a suitable match. An intraaortic balloon pump was placed to support her failing heart. Finally, he received the good news in June 2021 that a new heart has been found.

“I couldn’t do anything but cry,” Lisa said. “We waited so long, and it was finally here, and we were ready. God had prepared our hearts because it was really scary at first. Everything has been such a gift.

Stephen underwent a heart transplant on June 20, 2021 for Father’s Day. As he had already undergone two open heart surgeries, the heart transplant operation proved difficult. Dr Eric Thompson was the cardiac recovery surgeon and left Kansas City before midnight to remove and return the new donor’s heart. After arriving in the operating room with the new heart at 6 a.m., he cleaned up and, along with Dr Borkon, they performed Stephen’s heart transplant operation. This was the 900th transplant performed at the Mid America Heart Institute in Saint Luke. Lisa and their daughters were sitting in the waiting room while he was in surgery. Their priest texted Lisa to tell her that he broke the news during mass and that many people were praying for him.

After the operation, Stephen woke up painlessly. He stayed in the hospital a little longer recovering. With a new heart and a new life, Stephen can’t wait to get back to work, go fishing and play with his granddaughter.

“The CVICU team is amazing. These nurses, oh my god. They are supportive, compassionate, and love what they do. You can say. This whole transplant team is just fantastic. I am so grateful to have the Saint Luke Heart Institute here.

Learn more about the Mid America Heart Institute in Saint Luke – Ranked among the top 25 hospitals for cardiology and cardiac surgery by US News & World Report.

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