Father of Transplant Patient Also Gets New Heart
Bruce Prenosil’s word for 2009 is “Believe.” A “believe” sign sits on his fireplace mantel. And wherever he goes, the word just seems to jump out at him. A bag appeared on his doorstep this month with the word “believe” printed on it. And while recently stuck in traffic, the license plate in front of him read, “BLV 2 RCV” (Believe to Receive).
Since he was put on the top of the heart transplant list in April, Bruce believed he would get a new heart in time to keep him alive. On July 19, 2009, Bruce didn’t need to believe anymore, he knew. Even before he received the call from The Nebraska Medical Center, he seemed to know the call would come.
That Sunday morning he told his wife, Joan, that he had a dream that a heart was offered. Later that day, in the middle of the church service, an announcement was made from the pulpit: “Sorry to interrupt. Bruce Prenosil, they have a heart for you.” Bruce had turned off his phone for the church service and didn’t realize The Nebraska Medical Center had been calling him.
On Sunday night at 8:30 p.m., Bruce was wheeled into the operating room at The Nebraska Medical Center. At 11:00 p.m., the new heart arrived. The transplant, performed by Mohammed Quader, M.D., director of the medical center’s heart transplant program and his team, lasted four hours.
As a former Omaha news reporter, Bruce had covered many stories about healthy living and he knew how important it was to stay in shape. He exercised regularly, but his family had a history of heart disease. His grandmother died at age 38 and his father died at age 52.
In 2003, Bruce was diagnosed with heart disease and received a pacemaker-defibrillator. Eventually diagnosed with congestive heart failure, he received a mechanical assist device in February called the Thoratec HeartMate II Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD).
“The FDA had just approved the use of HeartMate II,” said Ioana Dumitru, M.D., heart failure specialist at The Nebraska Medical Center. “Bruce was an excellent candidate for the device. He would have died without it.”
The mechanical assist device takes over the function of the left ventricle, a pumping chamber of the heart. The HeartMate II uses a small turbine, similar to a screw, which spins and moves the blood into the aorta. The device also requires a constant energy supply, making it necessary for Bruce to wear a mobile battery pack, or stay close enough to an electrical outlet.
“The HeartMate II made Bruce strong enough for transplant,” said Dr. Quader. “The mechanical assist device gives patients waiting for heart transplant needed time to regain nutrition, strength and mental preparation to go forward with heart transplantation surgery. Bruce needed all of them and he made the most of the HeartMate II support.”
“Without the device, Bruce may not have been well enough for surgery even if a heart was available,” added Dr. Quader. “His strength going into surgery also helped Bruce recover much quicker after the transplant.”
Just twelve hours after transplant, while still on a ventilator, Bruce motioned to his wife Joan for a piece of paper. His hand shaking, Prenosil scratched jagged letters across the paper; a note to his wife and sister. It read, “I love you both. I feel...” Not able to finish the sentence, Joan did it for him after receiving a nod of approval from Bruce. She added, “Great.”
Bruce was amazed at how well he felt shortly after transplant. Now, just ten days post-transplant, Bruce will be going home.
“I want people to know about the wonderful transplant team here at the medical center,” said Bruce. “It’s really a great team and people should know they don’t have to travel to other cities to get this kind of care.”
The Prenosils are familiar with the heart transplant process. Bruce’s daughter, Sarah, now age 23 was born with heart problems and had a heart transplant at age 14 at St. Louis Children’s Hospital (before The Nebraska Medical Center had a heart transplant program). She became a high school swimmer for Roncalli High School and is now a student at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Her donor is a 6-year-old boy from the East Coast. The Prenosils don’t know his name, but write letters every year to the family that get forwarded to them.
Bruce plans to do the same for his donor family. “We will probably never know who gave me this gift,” said Bruce. “I want to say how sorry I am for that family’s loss and how grateful we are for their decision to donate.”
The Nebraska Medical Center has performed 52 heart transplants since the program was reactivated in Sept. 2005.