WVU Medicine performs the first heart transplant in West Virginia history

Robert Parsons and Vinay Badhwar, M.D., pose for a photo four hours after Dr. Badhwar transplanted a new heart into Parsons.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – 61-year-old Robert Parsons became the first person to receive a heart transplant in the state of West Virginia on Saturday.

A few months ago, WVU Medicine’s J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital received approval to start performing heart transplants like the six-hour process that gave Parsons a new lease on life. The medical director of advanced heart failure and transplant program George Sokos said Parsons was very sick when he arrived which allowed him to be put on their waitlist.

Vinay Badhwar, M.D. (left), and Muhammad Salman, M.D., perform the state’s first heart transplant on Saturday, Nov. 2. 

Sokos said the procedure was successful but it was not the most crucial part of the process.

“Nothing against the procedure but the most important thing is the whole care afterward making sure that we stop rejection,” Sokos said. “We have him on a lot of medications that suppress his immune system so that his body does not reject the heart and you know we’re really trying to optimize those medications so that we don’t depress his immune system, so that he doesn’t get sick but enough that he doesn’t reject the heart and maintain the function of the heart.”

He said now, they have to make sure they focus on Parsons getting stronger by doing things like checking his blood pressure so that they can get him back to leading an active lifestyle as quickly as possible. Sokos said the recovery process would take a few weeks but he could not precisely say because every transplant is different.

Michael Shullo the vice president of transplant services said he was positive about the team’s ability to take keep Parsons healthy while he is recovering.

“I have complete confidence in the team,” Shullo said. “We have assembled a world-class team of physicians, clinicians, and professionals that have a wealth of experience in taking care of transplant patients particularly heart transplants and kidney transplants as well.

Both Shullo and Sokos said the medical feat required a team effort. Sokos even referred to the unit that consisted of medical and administrative staff as an army. Shullo said he entered his position a little under two years ago and that the hospital had been thinking about solid organ transplants a year before that.

Although the milestone is an occasion worth celebrating, Sokos said the battle is not over because there are many patients in and around the state who still need their help.

“That’s the thing that’s really important we want to reach as many patients as we can in the state, not for us but there’s a thought out there that a lot of people didn’t even know this is possible if they weren’t being referred to somewhere out of our state they weren’t even given a chance,” Sokos said. “Now that we have that ability to see patients here we say ‘ok, let us at least take a look and evaluate you, you may not be a candidate but you may be, it may be certain other things that we are able to do.”

Sokos said he looks forward to providing that help to those patients in need of their services.

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