When transplant surgeon John Um, MD, walked into Nebraska Medicine – Nebraska Medical Center the morning of April 11, little did he know, it was the start of two very long days. By the evening of April 12, Dr. Um had performed three heart transplants in 34 hours – a personal best for himself and the transplant team at Nebraska Medicine.
“The surgeries were pretty long. About six to eight hours each,” describes Dr. Um.
three heart transplant recipients in 34 hours and their doctor
From left to right: Harvey Brandy, Lucas Kollars, Curt Spethman and Dr. John Um
It all started with 24-year-old Lucas Kollars of Arlington, Neb., who was found unresponsive at home by his mother. After receiving a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) and a right ventricular assist device (RVAD), Kollars was on the heart transplant waiting list for 58 hours.
“Dr. Um said I had about two more days to live,” says Kollars.
Twelve hours after finishing Kollars’ heart transplant, Dr. Um started on the second one. The patient was 57-year-old Harvey Brandy of Omaha. Brandy’s heart problems began several years ago with a heart attack. After receiving a stent and pacemaker, Brandy’s name was placed on the transplant waiting list. It took three days to find a match.
“At the time, I was feeling really, really bad,” says Brandy. “My heart was only functioning at ten percent.”
While Dr. Um finished Brandy’s procedure, 60-year-old Curt Spethman of Omaha was being prepped for surgery. Spethman’s heart issues were fairly recent, but progressing quickly. His name was only on the transplant waiting list for five days.
“I was amazed at how fast it happened,” says Spethman. “You’re scared, but then you go – ‘I’m getting a heart. A second chance.'”
At 10:40 a.m. on April 12, Dr. Um began Spethman’s transplant. Even though it was his third in two days, Dr. Um was prepared and ready to go. He couldn’t let Spethman miss out on his second chance at life.
“I have a couch in my office where I can put my feet up, get some sleep and grab a coffee,” explains Dr. Um. “We also have multiple teams that are able to come in. They’re refreshed as well. This allowed everyone to be working at the best possible level. It’s a testament to the med center to invest in those resources and have the personnel to do those things.”
On May 11, all three patients met each other for the first time. They also thanked Dr. Um for his incredible work.
“I feel great. I’m walking around – about a mile or more a day,” says Kollars. “I want to thank Dr. Um and Dr. Aleem Siddique. They saved my life about nine different times.” “If it weren’t for the team at Nebraska Medicine, I wouldn’t be here. . It’s amazing what they do,” adds Spethman. “I’m now walking down the sidewalk and planting flowers again. It’s incredible.”
“One day, I’m going to come back and buy them a box of donuts,” laughs Brandy. “To show my appreciation.”
To learn more about the three heart transplants in 34 hours, watch this video: