A few months ago, 52-year-old Lori McCullough was tethered to an infusion pump, that dispensed medication to help her heart keep beating. She felt she was lucky to be alive, after going into cardiac arrest three times, due to her deteriorating heart condition.

“She truly was end stage heart failure, where her heart was failing her and she had a very limited lifespan, likely within six to 12 months,” says Dr. Jonathan Holtz, an advanced heart failure specialist at UPMC Altoona.

Lori felt fortunate that milrinone, the drug prescribed by Dr. Holtz, was keeping her alive, but they both knew it was only a temporary solution. The only effective long-term therapy would be a heart transplant.

Dr Holtz, who has an advanced heart failure clinic in Altoona, also  serves on the heart transplant committee at UPMC in Pittsburgh. The team evaluates patients who are candidates for heart transplant and determines who makes the list. Patients have to meet certain criteria. 

“You have to be an appropriate age, you need to have good kidneys and a good liver. Your organs need to be functioning reasonably well, so that if we give you a heart, we won’t have complications associated with that, and know you’ll live longer than you would with your current state,” says Dr. Holtz, as he explained, some of the requirements.

He says the team voted unanimously to put Lori on the transplant list. 

“She wasn’t at the very highest on the list, but based on her blood type and her size, relatively, she was very high up. So, we were able to get her a heart transplant as an outpatient within, I think that it was within 3 months, of being  on he list,” he adds.

Lori received her heart transplant on May 7. 

She noticed the change as soon as she woke up. “I knew right away that I had that heart and it was hard to grasp that I had life that I had lost for three years.”

Lori recovered quickly and within a week, doctors  were sending her home. Just three weeks later, lori played a starring role in Blair County’s Wear Red for Heart event.
She describes her life since the transplant as amazing and God blessed. She says she feels great.

And Dr. Holtz adds, “She hasn’t had any complications at all since the heart transplant. She’s a new woman!”

Now, Lori and her family share a new goal with Dr. Holtz: increasing the number of potential organ donors.

“If it wouldn’t be for the love of another person’s parent or family member that donated me this heart I wouldn’t have life so they live within me so now my husband and I will be organ donors and I  just hope that someday I can pay it forward,” she says, tearing up.

About 4,000 people in the United States are on the waiting list for a heart transplant. Only 2,000 to 2,600 donor hearts are available for transplant each year.