Kathryn Slattery knew a heart transplant was a possibility at some point in her life. She never imagined she would get a new liver as well. On January 10, Slattery, then 17 years old, became the first person in Nebraska to ever receive a combination heart and liver transplant.
She recalled the moment when she received the news that a heart and liver were available for transplant.
“I was nervous and excited,” she said. “I started texting my friends right away.”
The transplant surgery began late in the afternoon on January 10. It lasted 14 hours. Cardiac surgeons John Um, MD and Jim Hammel, MD performed the heart transplant first. When Slattery’s new heart began beating, the liver transplant team began their portion of the operation. Transplant surgeons Jean Botha, MD, Wendy Grant, MD and David Mercer, MD, PhD worked through the early hours of January 11 to complete the procedure.
“It really was a great surgery all around,” Dr. Mercer said. “The heart surgery was just fantastic; the cardiac transplant team did such a great job.”
The transplant was Slattery’s fourth open heart surgery. She was born with a condition called hypoplastic left heart syndrome, which causes incomplete development on parts of the left side of the heart.
“Kathryn had pancreatitis in 2008,” her father Jim Slattery said. “That was our first indication there might be a problem with her liver as well.”
On December 1, she called home from school in Lincoln saying she did not feel well. Four days later she was admitted to Children’s Hospital and Medical Center. After spending two weeks at Children’s, she was transferred to The Nebraska Medical Center to be put on the transplant list.
Heart/liver transplants are rare. According to the Organ Procurement and Transplant Network, just 28 such surgeries were done in 2010 and 2011. Of those 28, only three were children.
“We have done so many of the individual organ transplants (heart and liver) here, we felt confident in our ability to do both for Kathryn,” said Dr. Mercer.
Slattery turned 18 during her recovery in the hospital.
“We had a party in one of the conference rooms,” she recalled. “Cake, pizza and opening presents; it was great.”
Slattery said her best present will be to go home and sleep in her own bed for the first time in two months.
The family shared their sincere thanks for the donor, the donor’s family and their sacrifice. They also expressed thanks to everyone at the medical center.
“It was always our choice of where to have this surgery done,” said Marilyn Slattery, Kathryn’s mother. “The confidence we had after meeting the surgical team, and their willingness to do it – that made the decision. I couldn’t imagine having it done anywhere else.”