The Challenge: Heart Attack (Myocardial Infarction)
“The year of 2004, we lost everything,” says 54-year-old, Emil Steinmetz.
Hurricane Ivan had just hit the east coast. “All we had left were the clothes on our back.”
It took over a year for Emil and his family to rebuild their home — a year full of heartache and stress. Still, the family pushed on.
Finally settled, Emil was eager to get his family back to the traditions and activities they loved — like playing pick-up basketball games.
“One day, I was standing there watching my sons play, and I just fell to the ground,” he remembers. “I thought it was my back — that I must have hurt it at work.”
Little did Emil Steinmetz know that he was, in fact, having a heart attack.
The Path to UPMC's Heart Transplant Waiting List
Emil's family rushed him to a local EMS.
“I wasn’t having any trouble breathing, but my heart rate had shot up to around 180-200,” says Emil.
EMS rushed Emil over to UPMC Passavant, where doctors found the issue. He had two blocked arteries. This blockage disables needed blood flow that delivers oxygen and nutrients to the heart, often leading to a heart attack.
Doctors performed an interventional procedure called cardiac catheterization with balloon angioplasty. Afterwards, Emil spent a little over a week in the ICU so he could gain enough strength to go home.
The month and a half that followed was tough in terms of recovery for Emil. He had gone back to work, but his health restricted his activity.
Later that September at a check-up, Emil’s doctors at UPMC told him he needed a pacemaker and had to quit working.
Six months later, Emil received more life-changing news. Due to the steady decline of his condition, he would need a heart transplant.
Emil went through the initial necessary testing for a hospital stay to wait for a heart.
He was in the hospital on the heart transplant waiting list for about two years. But in 2009, doctors had to take him off the list due to a rise in his ejection fraction.
An ejection fraction, or EF, is a range doctors use to measure the efficiency of the main pumping chamber of the heart. An EF concludes the percentage of blood pumped out of the left ventricle each time the heart beats.
For Emil, his EF was stable enough to no longer need a heart transplant.
For the following years, Emil had highs and lows.
“There were days I’d feel good. I could walk on my own. But then I'd get tired and sometimes depressed, being stuck in the house so often,” Emil says.
Still, Emil was unyielding in his determination to live as much as he could.
“I had a bucket list. We went to New York. I helped coach our softball team, because I just kept thinking, I’m going to get better.”
But in February of 2016, Emil’s rollercoaster of a journey reached its ultimate hill.“It was probably the worst year of them all,” says Emil. “I was in the hospital almost every month for a couple weeks at a time.”
A stress test revealed his health was failing, and he could no longer manage on his own. Emil Steinmetz would finally need a heart transplant.
The Solution: Heart Transplant at UPMC Presbyterian
In September of 2016, Emil had his pre-heart transplant screening. A month later, Emil's heart failure specialist admitted him back to UPMC Presbyterian.
On Nov. 6, 2016, Emil received the news that a heart had become available.
“When I found out that I was finally able to receive a transplant, I was ready,” says Emil. “Usually I get nervous when it comes to surgeries and things of that nature, but I was fine. I was ready.”
After a successful heart transplant, it was time for Emil to focus on his new life.
Emil admits that recovery was hard at first.
“I was in the house most of the time. It was a long process to feel better, just with walking, and getting back on my feet,” he says.
The Results: A Second Chance at Life
Four months’ post-surgery, Emil started easing back into playing the sports he loves.
“Just recently, I played in my first game of football. I haven’t played in 11 years,” Emil says.
Now, Emil says he feels “amazing.”
Emil declares he owes his family everything.
“When I initially got sick, my first granddaughter was born. We're on number five now,” says Emil. “They kept me going. I’m probably one of the lucky people that get to spend as much time as I do with family.”
Best of all, Emil says he now has a very special relationship with his organ donor’s family.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” Emil says. “It was just wonderful to meet them, and it made me feel so much better. Because I know they appreciate that their son gave a heart to somebody that really does appreciate it.”
To express his gratitude, Emil gave his donor’s family a teddy bear with a recording of his new heartbeat.
Today, Emil is happy to have persevered through his sickness and rebuild his life. Just as he did with the hurricane that began it all.
Emil's treatment and results may not be representative of similar cases.
Learn More About Heart Transplant
From UPMC Transplant Services
- Who is a Heart Transplant Candidate?
- Heart Transplant Surgery: Preparation and Procedure
- After Heart Transplant Surgery
From the UPMC HealthBeat Blog