Beating the Odds Twice
Eman Hasan was referred to the University of Chicago Medicine to treat her cardiomyopathy, a condition that was diagnosed after she battled breast cancer.
For Eman Hasan, the improbable happened twice, receiving not one, but two devastating diagnoses. The 41-year-old accountant was diagnosed with breast cancer in her native Kuwait. As part her treatment plan, Hasan received chemotherapy, which in turn caused cardiomyopathy, a deterioration of the heart muscle. With her cancer treated but her heart weakening, Hasan's doctor in the Kuwait referred her to the University of Chicago Medicine heart failure and transplant team and Valluvan Jeevanandam, MD, chief of cardiac and thoracic surgery and a well-known expert in heart transplantation.
Hasan would need to wait five years to be certain she was cancer free before being considered for a heart transplant because the necessary immune suppression drugs that accompany any transplant could make the cancer blossom.
In the meantime, Hasan’s heart was causing problems. Jeevanandam and his team decided she would be an ideal candidate for an LVAD, a left ventricular assisted device, a mechanical heart pump, and in 2009 she received the device that kept her body from going into shock from her damaged heart. “She did well,” said Jeevanandam, who also brought over Hasan’s doctor and a team from Kuwait to teach them the LVAD procedure.
Divorced, and with a daughter in high school, she shares that it was a “tough time, dealing with two diseases at once.” Family members took turns staying with Hasan in Chicago to support her during this trying time. Her daughter even delayed starting college in order to be with her mom, and later, when Hasan was unable to attend her wedding, her daughter made sure to visit Chicago on her honeymoon.
Sponsored by her government, Hasan flew back and forth between the United States and Kuwait to get regular checkups as she waited to be deemed cancer free and eligible for a new heart. “She was a frequent flyer,” said Jeevanandam. “Because of her LVAD, she had batteries and gizmos strapped to her, so I would have to write letters explaining her condition every time she flew.”
“The heart transplant team worked closely with our oncology and immunology colleagues to clear her through several scans and tests to be certain she was cancer free before she could have the transplant, “ he added. “With a transplant, you worry about rejection and infection, and in Hasan’s case we had to be concerned about cancer as well.”
Nurse practitioner Catherine Murks explained how enlisting the help of multiple departments is typical at the University of Chicago Medicine. “Seeing a patient with more than one issue or disease is not unusual for us because we tend to see the most complicated patients,” said Murks. “It’s not uncommon for our patients to have more than one chronic illness.”
For Hasan, having to tick away the five long years before she could even be considered for a transplant was not her only roadblock. Due to the presence of antibodies, finding a match would be very difficult and Jeevanandam prepared her for the possibility of a long wait, stating he thought it might have been easier for her to win the lottery than be transplanted quickly.
On November 27, 2012, her wait was over as Hasan received a donor heart, but, she would still face a few challenges after the procedure. Shortly after the transplant, she had some typical, yet minor, early rejection episodes. “But everything quieted down and she’s doing great,” said Jeevanandam.
Throughout Hasan's ordeal, the University of Chicago Medicine's Center for International Patients was a constant helping hand, managing every last detail of her stay, such as providing a 24/7 translator, housing and transportation, in order to minimize Hasan's worries. Having access to resources like the international center factored heavily in her decision to stay with the University of Chicago Medicine, and refer others here.
For Hasan, being treated at the University of Chicago Medicine has been the answer to her prayers. She is extremely grateful for the care she has received and said she loves America and Chicago. "The care I received in Chicago means a lot to me, there was kindness and love just like family," she said.
Savitri E. Fedson, MD, Hasan's current physician at the University of Chicago Medicine, explained that though she returns monthly for biopsies and lab work, she has done very well post transplant.
"Transplants are more challenging for a patient with a chance of a malignancy," said Fedson. Even though Hasan did have some rejection episodes early on, our team was able to do a good job of managing them so as not to present a problem long term. "Speed bumps are not unusual in these cases."
Hasan said the University of Chicago Medicine gave her a new life and she will never forget it. While still in cardio rehab, she’s back to living her life. “I cook, clean, shop, go to restaurants and drive my car by myself and, best of all, I’m a new grandmother.”