Innovation at UPMC: A Grateful Heart

The virus that attacked Amanda Goehring’s heart in 2003 landed the then 23-year-old hairdresser in the hospital, weak and close to death. After being transferred from her community hospital, she awoke from unconsciousness at UPMC Presbyterian, attached to a heart assist device — a heart pump that helps a failing heart to circulate blood — her best hope for staying alive long enough to receive a heart transplant. Ms. Goehring was in good hands,  UPMC’s Heart and Lung Transplantation Program is among the oldest and most respected in the country.

But even in the hands of seasoned experts, a heart transplant is a daunting experience, and Ms. Goehring and her family prepared for an uncertain journey ahead. There was one more slim hope: that her inflamed heart could heal itself while the heart pump did its work. UPMC cardiac surgeon Robert Kormos, MD, director of the UPMC Artificial Heart Program, had successfully weaned a small percentage of patients from artificial heart pumps as their resting hearts regenerated. Amanda Goehring became one of those fortunate few. Her heart recovered to such an extent that she was able to avoid transplantation, and even the heart pump was eventually removed.

Mom, Dad, and son.Healing Hearts Around the World

UPMC has led the way in this highly specialized approach, having weaned about 20 such patients from heart assist devices to date. UPMC specialists, including Dr. Kormos, and Ms. Goehring’s cardiologist, Dennis McNamara, MD, director of the UPMC Advanced Heart Failure Center, hope these cases will offer lessons on heart regeneration that can help treat patients with heart failure as well as other heart diseases. They are currently involved in research aimed at quantifying these experiences and developing treatment protocols to benefit heart failure patients from across the country and around the world.

But Ms. Goehring’s story wasn’t over. Just months after her heart recovered, she veered into uncharted medical territory again, when she informed Dr. McNamara that she was pregnant. “Dr. Mac was going to have a heart attack when I told him I was pregnant,” she says. Nobody knew whether it was safe for her to deliver a baby, because almost no one with her medical history had done it before. Dr. McNamara and Dr. Kormos watched and waited as she went through a, thankfully, uneventful pregnancy. On Aug. 5, 2005, she delivered a healthy son, Brody.

“Brody turned four this past summer, and he’s just an amazing kid. He loves going to preschool, playing dek hockey, and holding doors open for people leaving the grocery store,” says Ms. Goehring. “I know that he is the reason I am here because he is going to do special things.”

Today, nearly six years after having open heart surgery, she looks back on her experiences and is grateful to have landed in the hands of expert physicians. She’s grateful for the innovative treatment that allowed her to have a full recovery. She’s grateful for the second lease on life that blessed her with Brody and her husband, Doug Brewster, who she married on December 31, 2008. “It’s very humbling to realize that without my doctors, without the care that I received at UPMC, I might never have had Brody or met and married Doug,” Ms. Goehring says.

Saving Lives through Research and Expertise

Ms. Goehring’s is just one of the many stories of lives saved or made better because of the pioneering research, clinical expertise, and novel collaboration that happen every day at UPMC. By choosing to have care at a UPMC facility, patients have access to world-class medical care via interconnected programs and experts. In addition to technology that allows for easy sharing of medical records and images, and research trials that can provide advanced treatment options that may not be available at other hospitals and medical centers.

Amanda Goehring’s once failing heart can testify to this exceptional care. “For me, this was a life-changing experience that didn’t end when I left the hospital,” she says. “I thank God every day that my doctors were blessed with the talents and skills to save my life.”

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Note: This patient's treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.


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