Two Hearts Become One While Waiting for Another
Patient waiting for a new heart is married at No. 1 ranked UC San Diego Health
Dressed in a Hawaiian shirt with a boutonnière pinned above the pocket and hair neatly combed back, David Reynoso was ready to get married to the woman he had first met 11 years earlier.
“We were planning on doing this later in the summer, but we think it’s best we get married now.”
That’s because instead of spending the past several weeks compiling lists of wedding guests or possible wedding gifts, Reynoso found himself on a list for a heart transplant.
He waited for the life-saving donation while receiving care at Sulpizio Cardiovascular Center at UC San Diego Health. More than 67 percent of patients at UC San Diego Health are transplanted within three years, faster than the national average.
“Our patients have impressive survival on the waitlist for a multitude of reasons. We have outstanding physicians and allied health professionals, access to the best technology and excellent organ availability,” said Dr. Eric Adler, cardiologist and director of cardiac transplant and mechanical circulatory support at UC San Diego Health. “But what makes us special is that we are a team committed to doing exactly what we would do if the person walking into our clinic is family; that mindset makes all the difference.”
And it is that exceptional care and compassion that bonded Reynoso with his medical team. “He is a lovely patient,” said Kari Nielsen, a nurse at UC San Diego Health. “He definitely has a sick heart and needs a new one, but he just couldn’t wait to get married any longer.”
Because of the global pandemic, visitation at UC San Diego Health has been limited to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“We believe families and other loved ones are an important part of the healing process,” said Nielsen. “However, due to the outbreak of COVID-19, we must take extra steps to protect our patients, staff, visitors and community.”
But with special permission and safety measures implemented, Reynoso was able to have a most meaningful visit when his medical team organized a wedding ceremony in a secure area of the hospital.
“As you can imagine, we don’t do this every day,” said Nielsen. “The nurses are so excited to celebrate something happy during these trying times.”
Back in the hospital room on his wedding day, Reynoso gently put his mask on while a nurse assisted with the tubing that tethered the groom to needed fluids that would remain with him during his trip down the aisle. Together, the nurse and Reynoso slowly walked out of the room he occupied for 42 days.
With everyone in place, another nurse led Vicky Young, wearing a tied-dyed mask, toward her soon-to-be husband, throwing rose petals along the way. Nearby, there was a table with white and pink flowers, sparkling cider and a vanilla bunt cake. A “Just Married” sign hung between two IV stands.
With “I do’s” exchanged moments later, medical staff burst into cheers and clapped for the newlyweds. “I have never ever felt so special,” said Young.
Going above and beyond, combined with advanced care, is what has helped place the heart transplant program at UC San Diego Health among the nation's top performing transplant centers.
Indeed, the Cardiovascular Institute at UC San Diego Health is ranked among the nation’s best by the 2020-2021 U.S News & World Report, one of ten specialties at UC San Diego Health to receive this distinguished recognition.
Ranked no. 1 by U.S. News & World Report
UC San Diego Health has been ranked first in San Diego and sixth in California, placing it among the nation’s best hospitals, according to the 2020-2021 U.S. News & World Report.
The annual rankings are designed to assist patients and their doctors in making informed decisions about where to receive care for a variety of health conditions, common elective procedures and complex surgeries.
“This is an extraordinary honor that recognizes the dedication of our entire staff and represents the intersection of UC San Diego’s tripartite mission of delivering outstanding patient care through commitment to the community, groundbreaking research and inspired teaching,” said Patty Maysent, CEO, UC San Diego Health.
For the 2020-2021 rankings, U.S. News & World Report evaluated more than 4,500 hospitals nationwide in 16 specialties and 10 procedures and conditions. In the 16 specialty areas, just 134 hospitals (2.9 percent) were ranked in at least one specialty. UC San Diego Health was ranked in the top 50 for 10 specialties:
Pulmonology (No. 10), Geriatrics (No. 13), Neurology & Neurosurgery (No. 22), Cardiology and Heart Surgery (No. 31), Gastroenterology and GI Surgery (No. 32), Nephrology (No. 34), Urology (No. 36), Orthopedics (No. 42), Gynecology (No. 46) and Cancer (No. 47).
“As San Diego’s only academic health system, UC San Diego Health is a recognized destination for patients with deeply complex diseases and conditions that require the multidisciplinary care and attention of nationally recognized experts,” said Maysent. “It is the tireless efforts that happen within our system that have been shown to make remarkable differences in the lab and at the hospital bedside.”
UC San Diego Health is also rated by U.S. News & World Report as “high performing” in eight common procedures and conditions, which cover a spectrum of care from heart procedures, such as bypass and valve surgeries, to cancer surgeries for the lung and colon.
“From having a baby to joint replacement surgery or cancer care, patients look to U.S. News & World Report rankings to help make critical health care decisions for themselves and their families, and we take that responsibility very seriously,” said Chad VanDenBerg, chief quality and patient safety officer at UC San Diego Health. “We are thrilled that our focus on high reliability is being acknowledged in this way.”
U.S. News & World Report “Best Hospitals” methodologies in most areas of care are based largely on objective measures, such as risk-adjusted survival and discharge-to-home rates, volume and staffing of nursing, among other care-related indicators.
Another key component of U.S. News & World Report rankings is the expert opinion score, which is based on physicians from around the nation voting for the best hospitals in their specialty.
“Hospital reputation is not only important to patients, but it allows UC San Diego Health to be more competitive with the recruitment of top trainees and faculty, as well as help drive physician referrals for challenging cases,” said Dr. Chris Longhurst, chief information officer and associate chief medical officer at UC San Diego Health. “It is these contributors that allow us to be successful and remain on the forefront of care both locally and nationally.”
“We are extremely proud,” said Maysent. “The rankings remind us as we continue to face a global pandemic, that our diligence and efforts make a difference and that we are extremely grateful to serve every patient who comes through our doors.”
New heart (and kidney) for the newlywed
After nearly nine weeks on the heart transplant wait list and approximately one month after he got married to Vicky, Reynoso underwent heart transplant surgery on July 15, 2020. He is doing well.
“I am feeling healthier every day,” said Reynoso.
Due to his deteriorating heart, other organs had also begun to fail. So, Reynoso received a kidney transplant the day after he received a new heart. “I would not be able to celebrate this second chance at life without these precious organ donations. Thank you to the individuals who saved me.”
Reynoso was discharged from UC San Diego Health on July 25, 2020 after spending a total of 81 days in the hospital. “What made this day the most special, is it was my eldest daughter’s fiftieth birthday,” said Reynoso. “What I missed the most during my time in the hospital was my family and physical contact. I am so happy to be surrounded by my loved ones again.”
Reynoso is now undergoing physical therapy and cardiac rehabilitation to regain his strength.
“David’s outcome and our recent recognition from U.S. News & World Report would not be possible without our top multidisciplinary team that works around-the-clock every day to save the lives of patients, while providing an unbelievable bedside manner, such as planning a wedding that this couple will remember forever,” said Victor Pretorius, surgical director of cardiac transplant and mechanical circulatory support at UC San Diego Health, who was also Reynoso’s heart transplant surgeon.
Reynoso echoes that sentiment. “Vicky and I are beyond grateful to the doctors, nurses and staff who made my transplant journey an extraordinary one. I now have the gift of living my life to the fullest with my new organs and my new wife.”