Celebrating more than 200 changes of heart

Patrick Sean McCool and his mom, Michelle, are two of 221 patients who received a heart transplant at the Nebraska Medical Center. The McCools attended Nebraska Medicine's 200th Heart Transplant Celebration.

Michelle McCool, 51, and her 22-year-old son each wore a silver necklace with a heart pendant hanging from the chain.

His heart was engraved with the number 151, hers with the number 154.

Of the 221 patients who have received heart transplants at the Nebraska Medical Center, this mother-son duo had their surgeries just six months apart.

"It was all really very sudden," said Michelle, of Bellevue.

She and her son, Patrick Sean McCool, attended what the Nebraska Medical Center billed as a 200th Heart Transplant Celebration on Saturday, where transplant recipients and their families gathered to celebrate their new hearts and thank the doctors who helped.

The Nebraska Medical Center completed its 200th transplant in July 2015 and has since performed 21 more successful transplants.

The McCools were diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, a genetically transmitted disease that doesn't allow the heart to pump blood efficiently.

Michelle's father passed away suddenly at age 39, most likely from the same heart disease, she said. Her father's birthday was March 1 — the same day her son received his new heart.

"It's nothing short of miraculous to think how far science has come since his (her father's) time," Michelle said.

Dr. John Um, surgical director of cardiac transplantation and mechanical circulatory support programs, said he has performed about 150 heart transplants in his career. He said the surgeries that were unsuccessful are the ones he remembers most.

In his 10 years at the Nebraska Medical Center, Um added, his patients have taught him a lot.

The Nebraska Medical Center launched its heart transplant program in 1994. The program stalled after five years — and 29 transplants — because of staffing issues and was then restored in 2005.

Seventy-year-old Don Brouillette wore his blue Navy cap to Saturday's event. He was the first to receive a new heart in 1994. Since then, the Omaha man has received a second new heart and a new kidney.

Brouillette said he was having heart attacks for several months before his first transplant. At the time, his granddaughter was only a toddler, and he had a grandson on the way.

"I got to see them grow up," he said. "And now I get to see my granddaughter get married this fall."

Brouillette said he and his wife of 47 years are retired and spend their time taking road trips around the Midwest. They just get in the car and drive. "I've had a good life," he said, adding he still has a lot left to do.

"I don't know who my donors were," he said. "But I just wanted to say, 'Thank you.'"

Contact the writer: 402-444-1304, news@owh.com

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