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Patient Undergoes Second Heart Transplant at Peak of Pandemic

Smidt Heart Institute Cardiothoracic Surgeons Continue to Perform Safe, Successful Heart and Lung Transplants Throughout the Pandemic

Rosemarie Barron was 17 when she had a cardiac arrest and underwent an emergency heart transplant.

While she survived and continued to live a full and vibrant life, her longtime cardiologist, Jon Kobashigawa, MD, director of the Heart Transplant Program at the Smidt Heart Institute, told her 20 years ago she would eventually require another heart transplant.

This reality set in just before her last birthday when Barron’s health began to decline. But when the news came that a heart donor was available for her this past May, it was the peak of the coronavirus pandemic. Barron, now 50, was forced to make a decision about undergoing a second lifesaving transplant or delaying her care until the virus showed signs of slowing down.

“My decision was easy,” said Barron, a resident of the Los Angeles suburb Pico Rivera. “I trust my care team and Cedars-Sinai wholeheartedly, from the surgeons to the doctors, to the nurses and the food delivery personnel who always wore a smile. Since my family couldn’t be with me in the hospital, the staff truly became my family. Pandemic or not, I knew this was the right heart and the right time for me to have the procedure.”

Barron isn’t alone. She is one of 69 patients who underwent heart transplants at Cedars-Sinai between March 1 and Sept. 30, 2020. In comparison, the Smidt Heart Institute performed 70 heart transplants during the same time period in 2019.

“This is a remarkable achievement,” said Joanna Chikwe, MD, chair of the Department of Cardiac Surgery at the Smidt Heart Institute. “Unlike many other programs, we were fortunate not to be overwhelmed by COVID-19, so our priority became providing the best care to these critically ill patients, as safely as possible.”

Fardad Esmailian, MD, surgical director of the Heart Transplant Program at Cedars-Sinai, and Dominick Megna, MD, surgical director of the Lung Transplant Program, say they are glad patients are heeding their advice to not delay care.

“We want patients to keep up with their medical care so the pandemic doesn't create another health crisis caused by people ignoring their symptoms," said Esmailian. “This public health crisis hasn’t changed our ability to deliver on safety, quality and excellent outcomes.”

That’s a sentiment to which Barron can attest. 

“I felt safer than ever before throughout my transplant process and am extremely grateful for the care I received,” said Barron. “Now, I can look forward to what’s next for me and my family, without having any doubts about my health.”

Smidt Heart Institute surgeons perform more adult heart transplants than any other U.S. medical center, and the institute is a world leader in the treatment of heart disease, both clinically and through rigorous scientific investigation.

“Rosemarie’s story is similar to so many others facing heart surgery – stories of people who turned to us for safe, quality care and tremendous outcomes, throughout the pandemic,” said Chikwe. “We are grateful to these patients who continue to entrust us with their lives and wellbeing.”

Read More on the Cedars-Sinai Blog: Living With Heart Failure