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A New Heart for the New Year


By Jackie Carr   |   December 17, 2018

Nate Jackson, 52, looks forward to 2019 with friends, family, and a new heart.

“This is surreal. I am so appreciative for this life-changing opportunity,” said the former high school football coach. “I’m ready to take on life as a new me.”

The Cardiovascular Institute at UC San Diego Health recently reached the milestone of performing 50 heart transplants in one year. Jackson was number 50.

“When I got the call at 7:30 a.m. that a heart was available, I could not believe it. I told my friends and family and we were full of excitement,” said Jackson.

Adler, Pretorius and patient

The heart transplant program at the Sulpizio Cardiovascular Center is now the largest in San Diego and the third largest in California, placing it among the nation’s top performing transplant centers.

“The mission of the transplant team is to help patients live life with purpose and to its fullest,” said Eric Adler, MD, cardiologist and director of cardiac transplant and mechanical circulatory support. “When we see a patient like Mr. Jackson, we are reminded of how privileged we are to care for these inspiring patients.”

Jackson was walking more than a mile around the hospital floor just days after the heart transplant.

“We are so proud of him,” said Victor Pretorius, MBchB, surgical director of cardiac transplant and mechanical circulatory support at UC San Diego Health. “We want to thank Mr. Jackson for allowing us to treat him and express our deep gratitude to the donor who made this extraordinary gift of life.”

Adler noted that only a small number of heart centers worldwide perform 50 or more heart transplants annually. Over the past three years, the institute’s heart transplant program has tripled in size while maintaining excellent outcomes.

Cardiovascular Institute transplant patients have a one-year survival rate of 97 percent; the waitlist death rate is one of the lowest nationally, according to Adler. “The fact that we have a high volume and superb outcomes is testament to our commitment to providing lifesaving care that is safe and reliable.”

The institute is currently transplanting more hearts than any other hospital in San Diego. Local residents received more heart transplants in 2018 than in any year since the inception of the university’s program. This is due, in part, to the fact that locally donated hearts stay in San Diego. The institute also has a high organ acceptance rate, which allows the teams to transplant more patients overall.

“Often patients who are turned down at other hospitals, get a second chance at UC San Diego Health. As an academic health system we have the resources, technologies, therapies, and experts only found inside a university,” said Pretorius.

According to Lifesharing, a regional nonprofit group that coordinates all organ donations in San Diego and Imperial counties, more than 3,800 people nationwide are on heart transplant waiting lists. In San Diego and Imperial Counties, 47 require a new heart. Of these 47, almost half have been waiting more than six months for a donated organ. 

“My friends tell me I look and sound like I did 15 years ago. I had no idea I was in that bad of shape before I got my new heart. I am incredibly grateful,” said Jackson.

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