Heart Transplant Patient Story: Meet Tom Meshanko
In 1988, Tom Meshanko was walking up a hill on Sixth Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh when he started feeling fatigued and very sick. Knowing his family had a history of heart disease, he decided he needed to see his doctor right away.
Tests showed that Tom’s arteries were completely blocked and he was in need of bypass surgery at age 46.
After that, Tom stayed relatively healthy until 1997, when he experienced some chest soreness and tingling in his left arm. He went to UPMC Shadyside where doctors told him he’d had a heart attack and his heart had suffered massive damage. Tom had five bypasses, a defibrillator, a pacemaker, and a mitral valve replacement. He also went through cardiac rehabilitation.
Between 1997 and 2009 Tom had four implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) units implanted in his chest. In March 2009, he found himself at UPMC Presbyterian being treated for a staph infection that had developed from his latest incision. After six weeks in the hospital with little progress, doctors ran some tests and found that Tom’s heart was much larger than normal, and his heart’s ejection fraction was only 10 percent, which meant that only a small fraction of his blood was pumping. It was determined that Tom needed a heart transplant.
Tom naturally had some reservations about the surgery.
“I was afraid,” he says. “But my nurses and doctors were wonderful. They helped reassure me and helped convince me to get the transplant.”
Tom was listed for transplant in June 2009. Time on the waiting list depends on a patient’s size and blood type. UPMC’s median wait time is two months, which is lower than the national average. Tom spent just two hours on the waiting list when he was notified that there was a heart available.
By August 2009, just six weeks after his surgery, Tom had returned to his normal activities.
“With all the experience UPMC has, why would you go anywhere else? My transplant gave me a second chance at life,” he says. “I thought I was going to be a vegetable, but now I can do anything.”
Tom is very active in his community. He is a Eucharistic minister at his local church and volunteers at Family House once a month. Tom began volunteering with the Center for Organ Recovery and Education (CORE) in June 2010, and in July 2011, he, along with three other members, started a transplant support group for pre- and post-transplant patients.
This past summer, Tom participated in the Transplant Games of America in Grand Rapids, Mich. He finished a 5K marathon in less than one hour, won a silver medal in bowling, and gold medals in table tennis and tennis. Tom gave a gold medal to his transplant donor’s mother, with whom he has formed a friendship.
Tom’s advice to anyone who has had or may have a transplant is to practice proper use of medications and keep in contact with your transplant coordinator, because “they are the lifeline.” Today, Tom is 71 years old and healthy. He recently took a hot air balloon ride.
“That’s something I’ve wanted to do for 20 years. Without my transplant, I wouldn’t have been able to do that.”
Tom’s treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.