World Heart Day: Transplant patients can enjoy quality life even amid pandemic, say experts

September 29 is World Heart Day. Doctors say there have been very few Covid-related deaths among the 163 patients in the state who have had a heart transplant in the last five years

Barely two months after his heart transplant in 2017, Ravikant Thoke, a sales manager at a city pharma firm, had commenced work. Four years later, having recovered from Covid-19 this April, the 44-year-old is busy with business travels across Western India for nearly a fortnight every month.

-Shalini Panchal, who turned 51 recently, underwent a heart transplant nine months ago and recovered from Covid-19 after two weeks in the ICU this year.

-Solapur-based Ujwala Kashid (54) underwent a heart transplant in March 2017. She recalled how difficult it was then to even walk a few steps without getting breathless. Today, she occasionally travels to Pune to meet her son and even babysits her grandchild.

-Pooja Shinde, who has battled a heart disease for most of her life, admits transplant was the only option. The procedure, she admits, has helped improve her quality of life and the 34-year-old now works from home for a corporate firm.

In the last five years, 163 heart transplants have been performed across the state, mainly in Mumbai and Pune, and experts say there have been very few Covid-related deaths among them. Recovery after transplant can be challenging and while getting the most from a new heart and ensuring quality of life requires a strong commitment, on the occasion of World Heart Day (September 29) cardiologists have appealed to improve heart health and, thereby, prevent diseases.

According to public health estimates, the silent epidemic of heart disease is the number one cause of mortality among Indians. Dr Jagdish Hiremath, noted cardiologist at Ruby Hall Clinic which has performed the largest number of heart transplants in Pune, said the procedure is mainly for patients with end-stage heart disease. “These are immunosuppressed patients and, like other transplant patients, can catch infection quickly. However, if they are fine without any complications by the end of the year, then everything has fallen in place,” he said.

One of the most significant risks after a heart transplant is the body rejecting the donor heart. Dr Manoj Durairaj, Director of the heart transplant programme at Sahyadri hospital, said selection of the right recipient for the donor heart is important. “If the patient has been stable with medication, then we choose as young a donor as possible. Post operative outcome depends on selection of the donor heart,” said Dr Durairaj who has been involved in 25 heart transplant operations across various hospitals, including six at Sahyadri.

Cardiologists, nonetheless, made a strong case for taking up efforts to prevent diseases and to ensure that the cost of therapy is affordable. According to Aarti Gokhale, central coordinator of the Zonal Transplant Coordination Committee (ZTCC), Pune, a total of 35 heart transplants have taken place in Pune. Such patients may be at increased risk of mortality from Covid-19 due to comorbidities.

Dr Abhijit Lodha, a physician at Ruby Hall Clinic who manages post-heart transplant patients, said they had four such patients who got infected with Covid-19. While three of them recovered, one patient who had gone back to his place in Raigad district succumbed as he did not regularly take the immunosuppressant drugs. Post-transplant care is essential, Dr Lodha said.

“I still shudder to think of the time I used to suffer from irregular heartbeats and had to undergo countless procedures and tests,” said Thoke who was treated by Dr Hiremath and Dr Lodha. “I had started my routine and followed a proper diet. When I got infected with Covid-19, doctors also monitored my condition and, fortunately, I did not require hospitalisation, said Thoke who has taken one dose of the vaccine.

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Dr Akash Shukla, Joint Director of the Regional-cum-State Organ and Tissue Transplant Organisation, said there have been 163 heart transplants in Maharashtra from 2016-21. “People impacted with Covid were few and there were not many deaths,” he told The Indian Express. Dr Shukla admitted that while there were about 40 heart transplants each year during 2017-19, the numbers declined due to the pandemic. “Awareness has to be stepped up as not many are still aware of heart transplant operations,” he said.

“We have all the technology to perform a heart transplant but all these devices are costly. They also need maintenance. A key message here is that preventing heart disease is important. Health is not anyone else’s responsibility but one’s own,” said Dr AGK Gokhale, who has received a Padma Shri for his services in health care and is former president of the Indian Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation.

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