Joseph and Linda Shepherd
In early 2007 Joseph Shepherd was close to death because of congestive heart failure. He could barely walk across a room without becoming short of breath. But then UMMC cardiologist Stephen Gottlieb M.D., who was treating Shepherd, recommended him for a transplant, which Medical Center cardiac surgeon James Gammie, M.D. performed on February 17, 2007. Now, 11 months later, Shepherd is back to his normal activities, which include playing golf several times a week. He calls his transplant and recovery at the Medical Center an 'absolute miracle'. Below, Shepherd shares his thoughts about his experience and the care he received.
Why did you need a heart transplant?
I had been through three different heart valve replacement surgeries since 1983 — the first aortic, and the second time both aortic and mitral valve. I was in congestive heart failure for a few years.
Then my cardiologist at St. Agnes (Dr. Stephen Plantholt) and I discussed it and he decided that I was a transplant candidate. That’s when he referred me to Dr. Stephen Gottlieb [director of the Heart Failure Service and Cardiac Care Unit at the University of Maryland Medical Center, and a professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine].
Then I went to see Dr. Gottlieb. That was about three years ago. Dr. Gottlieb tried medical therapy, which he does very well. He’s such an expert in the field in getting the medications right and working with/tweaking the medications. But my heart continued to get worse and he finally said it was time that I had to seriously consider getting a heart transplant. I was spending as much time in the hospital as home — it was just a mad cycle.
At that point, I was definitely a candidate and on January 30th of 2007 I was put on the transplant list. Just 17 days later I got the call and they had a heart for me.
What happened next?
Dr. Gottlieb worked closely with cardiologist Erika Feller, M.D. [medical director for heart transplantation at the University of Maryland Medical Center and an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine], and once you become a candidate then Dr. Feller heads it up and matches you up with a heart. When they get a heart then the surgeons do the surgery and Dr. Gammie was the one who performed my surgery.
After the surgery, how was your recovery?
I was in the hospital for 10 days. They had me up that very first day that I awoke and had me walking the next day. I was released 10 days after the surgery.
I continued, as per their instructions, to walk, exercise and watch my diet. It’s just been a very smooth recovery all the way. After 11 months I’m back to no restrictions. Every day I cannot get over how well I have been and continue to do. It’s fantastic.
I’ve talked to transplant candidates and let them know what the future can hold for them and what they can expect. The surgery here is done so well (almost routinely) and it’s an absolute miracle to think that I was very close to death 11 months ago and now I can do just about whatever I want. When the weather’s good I play golf three to four times a week. I walk regularly, and can do the full range of whatever it is I want to do.
How did your life improve after the transplant? Did it make a big difference in your life?
Absolutely. I couldn’t walk across the room without getting out of breath. I was in the hospital more than I was out of the hospital. I was unable to do virtually anything. Now, I have no restrictions whatsoever.
What is your opinion of the doctors and other care providers here at UMMC?
I can’t say enough good things about absolutely everyone I was put in touch with throughout the procedure -- from the original evaluation with Dr. Gottlieb, matching me up with a donor, and the surgery, to the nurse practitioners who are now in charge of my case. It’s just a very well oiled machine that they operate.
Linda Shepherd, Joseph’s wife:
I have to say overall our experience was great because it was a miracle. He’s made a full recovery and everything is good.
As far as the care he received, everyone was very receptive and warm. I’m
amazed at the detail and care that the three nurse practitioners (Carol Wade and
Sharon Augustine) have given him. Once you see how
they follow cases, you are totally impressed. They are excellent; very detail
oriented. They know everything about their patients.