The Challenge: Transposition of the Great Arteries
Michelle Hagerty has had a lifetime of heart issues.
Born with transposition of the great arteries, which occurs when the aorta and pulmonary arteries switch places, Michelle had her first open heart surgery shortly before her third birthday.
The 42-year-old Erie, Pa., native says she then went on to experience the trials of her diseased heart for most of her life.
“I’ve had countless procedures, tests, pacer/ICDs, and medications.”
Unfortunately, the ongoing heart defect eventually caught up with her. In 2009, doctors diagnosed Michelle with heart failure.
“Things really went south. I was getting weaker. I was getting sicker.”
Adding complexity to the case, Michelle’s many surgeries and blood transfusions had sensitized her immune system.
When doctors approved Michelle for a heart transplant in 2016, they recognized the tough task ahead of them, finding a viable heart that her body would tolerate with minimal rejection.
Michelle was presented with a unique option to help find a heart for her. Doctors suggested a donor heart positive for hepatitis C antibodies but not the disease itself. They say the risk of dying from hepatitis C is very small, especially when compared to the dangers of congenital heart disease.
The Solution: A New Heart
A new generation of antiviral drugs has raised the cure rate of hepatitis C to 95%. Some hospitals — including UPMC — are using this progress to access a larger donor pool, including hearts with hepatitis C antibodies.
This effort shrinks the gap that exists between donor organs needed and available.
Michelle agreed to enter the pool of hepatitis C antibody donors after discussing the risks and benefits with her husband, Bill. Assurance from her care team was a big help.
“Once they explained the program to us, it was a slam dunk,” said Bill. “We both looked at each other and said, ‘let’s do it.’"
After waiting 10 months at home with no offers, doctors admitted Michelle to the hospital. They placed her at the top of the waiting list due to the seriousness of her illness and frailty of her heart.
But, even Michelle’s high placement on the list didn't guarantee a heart would be available right away. She ended up waiting a little more than four months in the hospital.
She finally got the call. Doctors had found a match for Michelle.
The Result: A New Life
“I knew immediately there was a huge, huge, difference,” Michelle exclaims. “It worked. I have a new heart.”
Doctors were thankful for Michelle’s willingness to trust her heart transplant care team’s guidance and opinions when deciding her course of treatment. She knew her labs, charts, and ultimately took charge of her health.
“I can do pretty much anything I want to do, and I can keep up with my husband.”
Michelle and Bill are now able to continue living the life they love, from hunting trips to baseball games to simply enjoying a quiet night at home with their dog.
They are grateful for their time together, Michelle’s care at UPMC, and the trust they placed in her donated heart.
Michelle's treatment and results may not be representative of similar cases.