After years of fighting cardiomyopathy, a heart transplant at Mayo Clinic has renewed Thomas Kim's health and revived his confidence in the future.
Thomas Kim had almost forgotten what it was like to make long-term plans. With his wife, Yona, by his side, the 48-year-old man sought to find out what caused him the extreme fatigue and shortness of breath, the treatment he needed and how to maximize his chances to see his four children grow up.
Thomas, a native of South Korea, has been in good health for most of his life. But at 38, he developed type 2 diabetes and hypertension . He experienced fatigue and shortness of breath. In 2009, Thomas was found in an emergency room in Panama City, Panama, where the couple were living then.
He was referred to a cardiologist who diagnosed him with dilated cardiomyopathy a disease where the left ventricle of the heart stretches and expands, so that he can not pump the blood as much as a healthy heart. The disease often causes heart failure and in some people it can be life threatening.
"I lived day-to-day because I knew I could die at any time," says Thomas.
But after seeking care in the United States and undergoing a life-changing heart transplant to Mayo Clinic the Kims again made plans. They are looking forward to taking a family trip to South Korea and are eager to make milestones with their children.
"I want to see my youngest son graduate of college," Thomas said. "I'm confident now that I'll be able to do that."
In Search of Answers
As his health deteriorated, Thomas consulted many doctors in Panama and Colombia in 2012 and 2013. Most of them told him that he could manage his condition with medication. Neither Thomas nor Yona were convinced that this was the case, especially since one of Thomas's family members had died a few years earlier from the same illness.
People in the situation of Thomas, whose heart has a low ejection fraction – a measure of the percentage of blood that comes out of the heart each time it contracts – often need a defibrillator to prevent sudden death. ]
"I knew that he was asking me for help, I had to help, especially after learning more about Mr. Kim's case." – Jose Diaz-Gomez, M.D.
In October 2014, family friends in Colombia suggested to Thomas and Yona to consider the Mayo Clinic. The friends had gone to university with Jose Diaz-Gomez, M.D. now president of Critical Care Services at campus of the Mayo Clinic . By that time, the Kims had never heard of the Mayo Clinic, but they allowed their friends to reach out and share Thomas's story.
"I had not talked to my dear colleague and friend for 10 years, so his phone call surprised me, I knew that he was asking me for help I had to help, especially after learning about Mr. Kim. "says Dr. Diaz-Gomez." I gave my word to my friend that I would help Mr. Kim get the care that he needed. "
About a month later, after some further research and discussion, Thomas went to Florida to meet the cardiac electrophysiologist Mayo Clinic Fred Kusumoto, M.D.
On November 20, 2014, Thomas had a defibrillator implanted at Mayo Clinic. He started a diet of several drugs including beta-blockers ACE inhibitors and other drugs that can improve the survival of people with cardiomyopathy.
For the next three months, Thomas went to the Mayo Clinic for follow-up appointments and other tests. In February 2015, Thomas returned to Mayo for a cardiopulmonary stress test and a cardiac catheterization . Both studies suggested that his long-term prospects would be better with a heart transplant or ventricular assist device than with medical treatment. Dr. Yip told Thomas that a heart transplant was his best option, and he should begin graft assessment soon.
"The word graft scares us," says Yona. "We never imagined it would be a decision we should take."
Shortly after, tests revealed that Thomas had developed pulmonary hypertension . Dr. Yip explained that if Thomas waited too long before making the decision to go forward with a transplant, the hypertension in his lungs would become permanent and he would not be able to survive surgery. Dr. Yip also told Thomas that he would need an implanted ventricular assist device like a transplant bridge.
"Dr. Yip is so knowledgeable that he has always had answers for us and was able to give us a long-term view of my condition and what we might expect from him. # 39; future. " – Thomas Kim
"This device is the best therapy we have to reduce pressure in the lungs, so you become a suitable candidate for the transplant," says Dr. Yip.
"Dr. Yip is so competent," says Thomas. "He always had answers for us and was able to give us a long-term view of my condition and what we might expect in the future."
Still, Thomas was worried about open-heart surgery.
A member of his care team, transplant surgeon Juan Carlos Leoni Moreno, MD suggested that Thomas speak with another patient from Panama in a similar situation who also had a device to assist ventricular and was waiting for a heart transplant
"Talking with him and hearing what his life was like helped to appease Thomas's fears," says Yona. "But he was still not ready to go ahead with the procedure, and we went back to Panama."
Making a movement
In December 2015, as Thomas's health continued to decline, the Kims decided to leave their four children, aged 16, 13, 6 and 4, with their grandmother in Panama and to travel to the States. Where Thomas would have implanted assistive device, and they would wait for a heart transplant.
"I wanted to see my kids grow up," says Thomas. "It was a difficult decision, but at that time my health was the top priority of our family."
Thomas began to see the benefits of the ventricular assist device shortly after it was put in place.
"The team of doctors we had was amazing, she always showed us the light at the end of the tunnel, we had absolute confidence from the start." – Yona Kim
"Before the operation, I was constantly out of breath," he says. "Just two days after the surgery, I could breathe normally and I had a lot more energy."
Knowing that Thomas could still wait a long time to have a heart, the family decided that it was time to get together. In June 2016, the children arrived in Jacksonville to join their parents.
"It was wonderful to be able to spend time with them and to have enough energy to play with my two young boys," Thomas says. "We felt a big void without the children."
Receive the gift of a lifetime
A year and a half after moving to Florida, on the occasion of Father's Day, Thomas received the best gift that he could hope for a new heart. Heart Cardiologist Mayo Clinic Parag Patel, MD ., Called the Kims to let them know that the organ was available.
"Dr. Patel explained everything to us and guided us at every step of this journey, he was so kind and reassuring," says Thomas. "When you know it's your only option, and you trust the team of doctors who look after you, it's a lot easier to do this whole trip."
After the transplant, Thomas's health has improved considerably – a fact that is a source of satisfaction for Dr. Diaz-Gomez.
"Whenever I see him, he looks harder and happier," says Dr. Diaz-Gomez. "When I think about how he celebrates his life and is healthy enough to enjoy his family, it makes me very happy."
For all the doctors and all those involved in Thomas's care team at the Mayo Clinic, the Kims are extremely grateful.
"The team of doctors we had was amazing, she always showed us the light at the end of the tunnel," says Yona. "We had absolute confidence in them from the very beginning."
Tags: Dr. Daniel Yip Dr. Fred Kusumoto Dr. Jose Diaz-Gomez Dr. Juan Carlos Leoni Moreno Dr. Parag Patel Heart Failure Heart Transplantation Mayo Clinic Graft Center Transplant Ventricular assist device