Nebraska surgeon performs three successful heart transplants in 34 hours

Published: May. 22, 2016 at 4:54 PM CDT
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In the organ transplant business, someone often has to die for someone else to live. No one knows that better than these men. They have new hearts, filled with gratitude for the strangers who helped them.

“I wish I could meet the people. That’s my goal is to meet them. I want to thank them," said Harvey Brandy of Omaha.

“They’re going to get a 'Thank You' from me,” said Curt Spethman of Omaha.

It’s a good sign, a month ago, no one was making plans; the future was uncertain. Fifty-seven-year-old Harvey Brandy was bed-ridden and his heart operating at 10 percent.

“Couldn’t walk or do nothing but lay there and moan and groan," said Brandy.

"Were you good at it?" asked reporter Brian Mastre.

"Yep – I kept the nurse on the move,” replied Brandy.

Twenty-four-year-old Luke Kollars’ heart was in even worse shape. Only later did he hear how dire his situation was.

“It’s kind of surreal. They didn’t tell me I only had two days left,” said Kollars.

Clots were destroying his blood and kidneys. He needed a new heart, so his name was added to the transplant list.

“58 hours later I got a call, 'Lucas, we found you a heart,'” said Kollars.

On the morning of April 11th around 7:45 a.m. Nebraska Medicine’s Dr. John Um goes to work. On average, a heart transplant takes 6-8 hours and Luke Kollars’ lasts nearly 7 hours. Little did Dr. Um know what was ahead.

“I didn’t know it would come so quick,” said Brandy.

On April 12th around 2 a.m. – 12 hours after finishing up on Luke, Dr. Um is back in the operating room. A heart became available for Harvey Brandy. Surgical training requires long hours and Dr. Um and his team puts it into practice.

“I have a couch in the office…put my feet up. Take a half-hour to an hour nap – grab a cup of coffee and move on to the next operation,” said Dr. Um.

Two heart transplants in 24-hours; quite an accomplishment for Nebraska Medicine considering the team averages three a month.

“To do it not once, or twice, but three times in rapid succession,” said Dr. Um.

Because two hours after Harvey Brandy’s transplant ended, a heart became available for Curt Spethman. Three heart transplants in 34-hours, which was a personal best for the surgeon.

“I’m amazed at how quick this happened. Unbelievable. You’re scared and then you’re getting a heart. ..and a second chance,” said Spethman.

A month after getting new hearts, the three came in for checkups and to say thanks.

“When I get some money, I’m going to come back and buy them a box of donuts to show my appreciation…because they helped me,” said Brandy.

“I’m going to hold him to that,” laughed Dr. Um.

The doctor says all three men are doing well a little over a month since the surgeries. WOWT 6 News will let you know when the donuts get delivered.

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