Aug 29, 2023 Trenton Man Receives Successful Heart Transplant at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital During Nursing Strike

Hospital Remains Committed to Uninterrupted Care at the Highest Levels While Working to Transparently Negotiate with Nursing Union

New Brunswick Heart Transplant Patient Group

(New Brunswick, NJ) – Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital’s (RWJUH) Heart Transplant Team, successfully performed a transplantation on August 4 within the first 24 hours of the nurse strike implemented by its nursing union.

The gift of life was received by a 52-year-old patient from Trenton. He was discharged from RWJUH on August 14 after 10 days in the hospital’s state-of-the-art Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit and cardiovascular in-patient unit. He returned for a routine follow-up visit on August 16 and continues to recover well at home with his family.

Heart transplantation is among the most complex procedures in medicine. Due to the fragile state of the patient from heart failure, a multi-disciplinary team of experts across many health care professions is required. The highly specialized care required for a successful transplant continues well beyond the operating room.

The ability to accept donor organs and perform transplant procedures and supportive care was critical requirement when the hospital was confronted with a strike from its nurses. Physician and nursing administrative leaders worked closely with national nursing agencies to ensure that RWJUH was ready to proceed when it receives a call regarding a donor organ match for patients in its heart, kidney and pancreas transplant programs.

For this husband and father of three, the call came the afternoon of August 3, 2023 – the day prior to the nursing strike at RWJUH.

New Brunswick Heart Transplant Patient “Performing this successful heart transplant demonstrates our team’s ability to provide uninterrupted, high-quality care and address the most medically complex cases during the nursing strike,” said Andy Anderson, MD, Chief Medical and Quality Officer for RWJBarnabas Health and RWJUH. “Patients and their families can be assured that under the leadership of our medical staff, we will continue working closely with our current nursing team to provide seamless care across our all of our advanced adult and pediatric specialty care disciplines.”

Ready to Care: Receiving the Gift of Life

The RWJUH team contacted the patient at 3 p.m. on Thursday, August 3 when a matching donor heart from out of state was identified. The heart was scheduled to arrive the afternoon of Friday, August 4, and the surgery took place that night. The successful surgery, which was performed by Hirohisa Ikegami, MD, Surgical Director of the Heart Transplant Program, began at 5 p.m. and lasted about eight hours into the next day. He is now under the care of Deepa Iyer, MD, Medical Director of RWJUH’s Ventricular Assist Device and Program Director of Heart Transplant, and Kenneth Dulnuan, MD, Advanced Heart Failure and Transplant Cardiologist at RWJUH. Throughout the process, the patient has been cared for by highly-specialized nurses who stepped in thanks to national nursing agencies supporting RWJUH during the strike.

The patient, who is a married father of three, started feeling ill in December 2020. He was short of breath and lacked energy when he went to a local hospital for treatment. Initially, physicians thought his symptoms could be linked to COVID. They prescribed medicine and sent him home. His symptoms began to worsen in mid-January of 2021. He was referred to another area hospital for treatment where he received shocking news: his symptoms weren’t COVID related, instead his heart was failing rapidly.

The heart failure diagnosis marked the beginning of a long and difficult journey for the patient and his family spanning more than two years. Doctors placed an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) in him, but it became infected and had to be removed. Then, he contracted COVID and had to fight the infection with a severe underlying medical condition. Over time, his lungs and kidneys began to fail.

He was referred to RWJUH’s Advanced Heart Failure, Ventricular Assist Device and Transplant Program in February 2021 and was listed for transplant in September 2022 following evaluation by the team.

“The plight of our patients who wait on donor lists across the region is in our hands,” said Alan Lee, President of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. “We will not let them down in any circumstance. I am grateful for the leadership of our transplant physician leaders and the transplant team for fulfilling our promise to this patient, and for the others who have received organ transplants during this strike. Their commitment to patients is inspiring.”

RWJUH’s program offers the full spectrum of care for end-stage heart failure patients, including durable left ventricular assist devices, access to clinical trials and Medicare-certified heart transplant services. RWJUH has dedicated a multidisciplinary team of physicians, nurse practitioners, nurse coordinators, pharmacists, a social worker and a nutritionist solely for the program.

In addition to heart transplantation, RWJUH offers kidney and pancreas transplantation, including living donor kidney transplants as well as transplants from deceased donors. RWJUH also has the largest pancreas transplant center in New Jersey. RWJUH’s program ranks first in New Jersey and second in the mid-Atlantic region in the number of pancreas transplants performed each year.

About Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital

Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH), an RWJBarnabas Health Facility, is a 640-bed academic medical center that is New Jersey’s largest academic medical center through its deep partnership with Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. RWJUH is the flagship Cancer Hospital of Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and The Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, a nationally-ranked 2023-24 Best Children’s Hospital by U.S. News & World Report. Centers of Excellence include cardiovascular care from minimally invasive heart surgery to transplantation, cancer care, stroke care, neuroscience, orthopedics, bariatric surgery and women’s health. A Level 1 Trauma Center and the first designated Pediatric Trauma Center in the state, RWJUH’s New Brunswick campus serves as a national resource in its ground-breaking approaches to emergency preparedness. 

RWJUH has earned significant national recognition for clinical quality and patient safety, including the prestigious Magnet® Recognition for Nursing Excellence and being named to Newsweek’s 2023 list of Best Ambulatory Surgery Centers. The RWJUH Advanced Comprehensive Stroke Center has been recognized by The Joint Commission and the American Heart Association as meeting The Joint Commission's standards for Disease-Specific Care Comprehensive Stroke Center Advanced Certification. RWJUH has also earned The Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval® for Disease-Specific Care Certification for Spine Surgery; The Joint Commission Gold Seal Certification for Bariatric Services; and The Joint Commission Gold Seal Certification for Hip and Knee Replacement services. The Joint Commission also awarded RWJUH a Gold Seal Certification as well as an Advanced Certification in Ventricular Assist Device (VAD) Implantation.

Contact: Peter Haigney
RWJUH Public Relations
(732) 937-8568