Woman recovering from transplants

December 29, 1997


Staff Writer

A Waynesboro, Pa., woman who had a heart and lung transplant Tuesday at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia is breathing on her own and was able to get out of bed Sunday, according to her cardiologist.

Sara Henke, 20, was "doing very well" without any mechanical assistance, said Dr. Nancy Bridges, medical director of the hospital's thoracic organ transplant program and one of the surgeons for the operation.

Dr. Thomas Spray, director of the hospital's thoracic organ transplant program, was the lead surgeon, she said.

Henke received a heart and right lung from a donor near her age, which is good, Bridges said.

She had been waiting for the transplant in the intensive care unit of the hospital - where she was receiving continuous intravenous medication to support her heart - for about six months, she said.


Henke's need for the organs stemmed from a heart condition that she was born with, but was corrected with surgery, Bridges said.

As a teenager, Henke developed a relatively rare complication in which abnormal blood vessel connections form and blood flows through the lungs without picking up oxygen, she said.

Since her left lung was almost unaffected by the condition, doctors decided to replace just the right lung and heart, she said.

Replacing just one lung with a heart is rarer and more difficult than replacing both lungs and a heart, Bridges said.

But having one of her own lungs will give Henke something to rely on in case her new lung is rejected, she said.

Henke had been turned down for the needed surgery by other hospitals because a combination of factors put her at extremely high risk for a lung transplant, Bridges said. Those factors were that she had chest surgery in the past and was cyanotic, or blue in color, because her blood lacked the proper amount of oxygen, she said.

Henke's highest risk in the surgery was that her bleeding was extremely difficult to control, Bridges said.

Because of that, she was in the operating room for about nine hours, which is much longer than normal, she said.

Henke will be at highest risk for rejecting the organs during the first three months following her transplant, Bridges said.

Because of the long distance between her home and the hospital, Henke will need to stay near the hospital for a while once she is discharged so that she can be checked regularly and have her medicines adjusted, she said.

Although she'll always need to take medication to prevent rejection, which will make her more vulnerable to infection, Henke should be able to live a relatively normal life once she recovers from the surgery, Bridges said.

Bridges said she's hopeful Henke will sufficiently recover in time to enroll in her next college semester, which starts in May.

Henke's family declined to be interviewed until they return to Waynesboro, according to hospital spokeswoman Sarah Jarvis.

The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia is the nation's oldest children's hospital and the largest heart and lung transplant center on the East Coast, Jarvis said.

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