West Virginia University Heart and Vascular Institute and the WVU Medicine Transplant Alliance hit a milestone achievement last week when they successfully performed the first heart transplant surgery ever in the state of West Virginia.

Robert Parsons, a 61-year-old man from Chesapeake, Ohio, was the one to get a new lease on life with the high-profile surgical procedure that took place at the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute located on the Ruby Memorial Hospital complex.

Dr. Vinay Badhwar and Dr. Muhammad Salman were the doctors performed the surgery, along with an entire 30-member transplant team consisting of surgeons to perfusionists.

“Today marks a new chapter for transplantation in West Virginia,” Michael Shullo, Pharm. D., associate vice president of transplant services for WVU Medicine and leader of the WVU Medicine Transplant Alliance, said in a recent press release. “This is the culmination of a tremendous team effort to support access to organ transplantation for all West Virginians and patients from our surrounding regions.”

Dr. George Sokos, medical director of advanced heart failure and cardiac transplant with WVU Medicine, said the preparation to get to this point was extensive.

He was hired in January of 2017 to spearhead the creation of a heart failure program noting that a health facility must first have a successful heart failure program before a successful heart transplant program can be implemented.

“Putting the team together was extensive — from nurse coordinators and social workers to pharmacists,” Sokos said. “We had multiple meetings putting together the protocols for a transplant program.

“Transplants are very protocol driven and there are certain things that have to be done, so we looked at protocols from a number of different places and then put together the best protocols that would make our own program unique and the best it could possibly be,” he added.

Prior to Parsons’ surgery, Sokos said there were several walk-throughs to make sure they had the timing down from getting the organ to performing the surgery.

The operation took a total of six hours and concluded at noon. By 4 p.m., Parsons was stable and taken off the ventilator. He was sitting up and visiting with his siblings from Huntington.

The transplant team included heart surgeons Badhwar, ; Salman, and Chris Cook, M.D.; heart failure cardiologists Christopher Bianco, D.O.; George Sokos, D.O., Marco Caccamo, D.O.; anesthesiologists Matthew Ellison, M.D., and John Bozek, M.D.; surgical assistants; transplant coordinators; nurses; pharmacists; social workers; dietitians; and perfusionists.

“On behalf of the tremendous team of your WVU Heart and Vascular Institute, it is an honor and privilege to bring access to this much-needed and precious, life-saving therapy to our patient today,” said Badhwar, transplant surgeon and executive chair of the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute and the WVU Department of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery. “We have opened the doorway to a new future for West Virginians, who no longer have to travel out of state for heart transplantation.”

Sokos said WVU has been keeping a transplant list for years, even though before last week, they were not being performed there and would instead send patients for the surgery to other facilities. He said Parsons was selected as the candidate for the first surgery there because he was at the top of that list.

“We have several patients on a transplant list and they each have to go through a formal evaluation process,” Sokos said. “The candidate needed to be healthy enough to do well after surgery but sick enough to need a transplant. Mr. Parsons was sicker, so that was the driving force behind him being our first transplant recipient.”

The WVU Medicine program has several more patients in need currently on a waiting list for heart transplantation.

“This heart transplant was the first ever in West Virginia’s 156-year history, and it marked a pivotal moment for the Institute as it continues to establish itself as one of the premier heart and vascular programs in the United States,” Albert L. Wright, Jr., president and CEO of the West Virginia University Health System, said. “We are proud of the team of dedicated professionals who made this surgery a success, and we are honored to bring this critical service to the people of West Virginia and all we serve.”

Sokos said the successful completion of West Virginia’s first heart transplant surgery will open doors for more comprehensive care for WVU Medicine.

“Now we are able to provide the highest level of care, whereas before as sick as someone was, the best we could do was stabilize them and get them to a facility that could perform the transplant,” he said. “This is really just so important to the community because now we’re able to provide that level of care here locally.

“It’s less about what it does for us as an institution and more about what it does for the community,” Sokos added.

For more information on the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute, visit WVUMedicine.org/Heart. For more information on transplantation or to refer a potential heart transplant patient, contact the WVU Medicine Transplant Alliance at 304-974-3004. To register as an organ donor, visit www.registerme.org/wvumedicine.

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