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Health & Medicine for Senior Citizens

American Heart Association Says 14 Percent of Heart Transplants in 2010 Were for Senior Citizens

Heart transplant for former vice president, Dick Cheney, raises questions about priorities; AHA issues statement

File:46 Dick Cheney 3x4.jpg

Dick Cheney's Heart Transplant Reopens Debate Over Age

March 26, 2012 - Doctors say it is unlikely that former Vice President Dick Cheney got special treatment when he was given a new heart at age 71 that thousands of younger people also were in line to receive.

Still, his case reopens debate about whether rules should be changed to favor youth over age in giving out scarce organs.

As it stands now, time on the waiting list, medical need and where you live determine the odds of scoring a new heart – not how many years you'll live to make use of it.

"The ethical issues are not that he had a transplant, but who didn't?" Dr. Eric Topol, a cardiologist at Scripps Health in La Jolla, Calif., wrote on Twitter.

Read more at the Huffington Post

March 26, 2012 – Former Vice President Dick Cheney had a heart transplant on Saturday at the age of 71. This has raised questions about who gets the few hearts available for transplant and if they should be used on senior citizens. The American Heart Association points out in a statement on this questions that about 14 percent of those receiving transplants in 2010 were senior citizens.

According to the American Heart Association, donor hearts are distributed through the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network of the U.S. government, which distributes organs based on the urgency of need, availability of organs and the location of the patient who is receiving the transplant, usually because of heart failure.

Heart failure is a chronic, progressive condition in which the heart muscle is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs for blood and oxygen. The heart muscle compensates by becoming enlarged and pumping faster to keep up with the body’s demand for blood. Eventually the heart and body just can't keep up, and the person experiences the fatigue, breathing problems or other symptoms that are called heart failure.

Heart failure can involve the heart's left side, right side or both sides. However, it usually affects the left side first. A heart attack can damage the heart muscle, resulting in reduced ability to pump blood, which often leads to heart failure.

Heart transplants are lifesaving procedures that were performed on 2,332 Americans in 2011. Of that number, 14 percent – 332 people -- were over the age of 65, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Wait times for patients can vary from days to months to years depending on matching an appropriate donor heart with the patient.

“Although most transplants are performed on younger people, patients over the age of 65 do receive transplants in the United States,” said Mariell Jessup, M.D., incoming president-elect of the American Heart Association, and a heart failure cardiologist at the University of Pennsylvania.

According to reports, before his transplant Vice-President Cheney had a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) implanted, which augments the heart’s output using a mechanical pump. “Left-ventricular assist devices (LVADs) have provided us with a highly effective tool to help patients with advanced heart failure.

These devices have revolutionized how we treat patients who used to die before they could undergo a heart transplant. After receiving one of these devices, patients can go home, get around and enjoy their life in relatively good health, although they might still have significant symptoms.

LVAD devices are most commonly employed as a bridge to transplantation, although in some patients they can be used alone. Patients with LVAD devices may still have symptoms and continue a guarded prognosis,” said Jessup.

While we can do much more than ever before in treating heart disease, it is vitally important for people to understand that heart disease can be prevented in many cases by a lifestyle that includes a healthy diet enough physical activity, avoidance of tobacco smoke and control of factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and overweight,” said Gordon Tomaselli, president of the American Heart Association, professor and director of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s Division of Cardiology.

Additional resources:

>> Implantable devices for heart failure -- LVADs

>> Cardiac procedures and surgeries, including transplants

>> Heart Failure

The American Heart Association/American Stroke Association receives funding mostly from individuals. Foundations and corporations donate as well, and fund specific programs and events. Strict policies are enforced to prevent these relationships from influencing the association’s science content. Financial information for the American Heart Association, including a list of contributions from pharmaceutical companies and device manufacturers, is available at .


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