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Personal Stories

Transplant Patient Reunites with Care Team

Twenty years after receiving a heart and double-lung transplant at NYP/Columbia, grateful patient Sean Kunzli and his family came to New York City for a celebratory reunion with his surgeon, Craig R. Smith, MD, and the team that performed this lifesaving surgery. Born with congenital heart disease, Mr. Kunzli underwent the risky and rare transplant in December 1993. Today, Mr. Kunzli is healthy and, according to Dr. Smith, one of the longest surviving recipients of a heart and double-lung transplant.

Transplant Patient Reunites with Care Team
Photo: Sheila Ryan, Mr. Kunzli's mother; John Siceloff and his wife, Birgit Jorgensen, NP, who was a transplant coordinator at NYP/Columbia in 1993 and is now at NYP/Weill Cornell; Deborah Songailo-Cottrill, Mr. Kunzli's cousin; Dr. Craig R. Smith, Surgeon-in-Chief, NYP/Columbia; Sean Kunzli; Chelsea Kunzli, Mr. Kunzli's daughter; Wendy Kunzli-Schaub, Mr. Kunzli's sister; and Dr. Mark E. Ginsburg, Associate Director of Thoracic Surgery, NYP/Columbia.

Organ Donation Provides Diabetes Patients With Sudden, Life-Changing Cure

Three diabetes patients were cured overnight in February 2013 after they received a new pancreas at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, showing how organ donations can help save lives.

Read coverage by and

Devastation Hits, and the Grill Teams Get Cooking

Devastation Hits, and the Grill Teams Get Cooking In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, we've seen photos and heard the inspiring stories of people helping neighbors to shovel sand out of their ravaged homes, of young people carrying water up flights of stairs for elderly neighbors and relatives, and of strangers offering sidewalk charging stations and a place to rest. But have you heard about the nurse practitioner, who happens to be a professional competitive BBQ griller, who helped to feed 6000 people in New York and New Jersey? Didn't think so!

Read more.

Dr. Oz shares story of his cancer scare in Time Magazine

Mehmet Oz, MD, FACS, authored an autobiographical feature article in Time Magazine's Health Special: Cancer, published June 2, 2011. In this personal account of his colon cancer scare, Dr. Oz shares his experiences as a patient facing frightening uncertainties associated with cancer — and what happens when test results are not what one hopes for.

His engaging story of how he became a 'bad patient' helps readers to understand just why many of us may put off cancer screenings, even when we know that doing so may be very risky. With humor and compassion, Dr. Oz offers a blend of information, support, and encouragement to do what we know we need to do, should we fall into a particular age or risk group in which cancer screening would be advised.

NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital campuses collaborate to use ECMO, saving
patient's life

Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, can provide respiratory and cardiac support during severe respiratory illness. The ECMO machine directly oxygenates the blood, providing an opportunity for the lungs to heal. Importantly, it avoids damage to the lungs that can be caused by use of a ventilator, which forces air into the lungs with pressure. Watch this video of Jay Shiland, who underwent ECMO treatment at NYP/Columbia and recovered from a severe case of what was believed to be pneumonia.

Video: NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital campuses collaborate to use ECMO, saving patient's life

Kris Smith & Eileen Fuentes Launch Woman's Wellness Series

Kris Smith, Divisional Administrator of the Clinical Breast Program, and Eileen Fuentes, Administrative Manager for the Department of Medicine, are creating "good karma".
Kris Smith
Kris Smith
Eileen Fuentes
Eileen Fuentes

From providing educational information to offering sympathy, support groups patterned after models of the past, may marginally limit those diagnosed with breast cancer.

While there is nothing wrong with sharing information about one's breast cancer diagnosis or receiving a shoulder to cry on….what about considering an unconventional support group that focuses on healing the whole person? Partnering with patients, their families and friends, Kris Smith and Eileen Z. Fuentes engage members of the Woman's Wellness Series to uplifting experiences like salsa dancing. Enlivening the spirit is just the type of symbiotic engagement that promotes healthier, happier lifestyles. Salsa dancing was taught to members of the Women's Wellness Series during the most recent group meeting by sisters, Kristal and Katherine Jimenez of Combinacion Perfecta. The sisters were successful in encouraging even shy members who claimed to have "two left feet" in participating in the lesson during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Future meetings include art therapy, yoga, and even Zumba.

The current Wellness Series is in session until the end of February and meets every Thursday from 4:00 PM to 5:30 PM at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center, located at 1130 Saint Nicholas Avenue in Washington Heights. Attendees from outside of the NYP/Columbia audience are more than welcome to join. So, get your notebooks and workout clothes ready and contact Kris Smith at 212.342.3911 or for more information. There is no charge for this series.

Video: Story of a Father-Son Living Donor Liver Transplant

Charles Cascio, Jr. and his father, Charles Cascio, Sr. are both patients at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital's Center for Liver Disease and Transplantation (CLDT) in New York City. Charles Jr. donated a portion of his liver to his father during a living donor living transplant (LDLT) procedure. Both father and son have fully recovered. Benjamin Samstein, MD, performed Charles Jr.'s donor surgery. James Guarrera, MD, performed liver transplant surgery on his father. Watch their story in five parts.

  • PART 1: A Second Chance at Life
  • PART 2: The Donor Evaluation
  • PART 3: Testimonial
  • PART 4: The Day of Surgery
  • PART 5: Experience

For Dr. Stewart and Patient, Triathalon Is a Success

A July 18, 2010 New York Times article entitled Surgeon Who Repaired Racer's Heart Joins Him as He Puts It to the Test profiled the dramatic story of two 2010 New York City Triathalon contestants: Columbia aortic surgeon Allan Stewart, MD, and Stewart's 28-year-old former patient Greg O'Keeffe. The article told how Dr. Stewart performed lifesaving surgery on Mr. O'Keeffe's congenital aortic defect, and how, less than two years later, Mr. O'Keeffe decided to compete in the triathalon, challenging Dr. Stewart to compete as well. Against the odds of a busy career and a semi-sedentary lifestyle, Dr. Stewart completed the triathalon, consisting of a 1,500-meter swim, a 40-kilometer bicycle ride and a 10-kilometer run. The article quoted Dr. Stewart as saying that Mr. O'Keeffe returned the favor of saving his life, "I don't know who saved whose heart more," he said.

ECMO Lung Support Improves Patient's Health, Making Way for Lung Transplant

Matthew Bacchetta, MD
Matthew Bacchetta, MD, MBA, MA

The December 14, 2009, USA Today ran an article about Liesbeth Stoeffler, a cystic fibrosis patient who received lifesaving lung support with a device called ECMO (short for extracorporeal membrane osxygenation). According to the USA Today article, ECMO enabled Ms. Stoeffler's doctors Matthew Bacchetta, MD, MBA, MA, and David Lederer, MD, to remove her from the ventilator, thereby improving her health so that she could maintain eligibility for lung transplant, which she received at NYP/Columbia on July 20, 2009. The ECMO gave Ms. Stoeffler's lungs relief from the ventilator, improving her oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, ultimately bridging her to transplant. According to the article, Ms. Stoeffler's doctors pared down her ECMO equipment and she was able to take liquids and food, which helped her gain weight and strength. She could eventually sit up, talk and even use her laptop and iPhone. "About five days into it, she told me it was the best she'd felt in years," Dr. Bacchetta said.

Watch an interview with Ellisabeth Stoeffler and her physicians.

Ventilators may cause damage to the lungs because they push air into the lungs. ECMO, short for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, directly oxygenates the blood, and does not cause lung damage. Patients may move around, eat, and even undergo pulmonary rehabilitation while on ECMO. Doctors at Columbia have been using ECMO technology as both a bridge to transplant and a bridge to recovery, using it to treat patients with H1N1, pulmonary fibrosis, COPD, cystic fibrosis, and pneumonia.

Genetic Testing for Colorectal Cancer

A Case Study

Genetic Testing for Colorectal Cancer A small percentage of colon cancers are caused by a rare inherited disease called Lynch Syndrome, or Hereditary Nonpolyposis Colon Cancer (HNPCC). The syndrome, caused by mutations of several genes, causes carriers to have about an 80% lifetime risk of developing colon cancer, as well as an increased risk of endometrial, ovarian, gastrointestinal, hepatobiliary, and other cancers. For a Broadway performer in her 40's who had the mutation, knowing about her genetic risk gave her the opportunity to choose her path and be proactive about her care. But not all patients are prepared to undergo genetic testing or to share such information with their families.

Transplantation for Short Bowel Babies

Under the direction of Dominique M. Jan, MD, the Pediatric Intestinal Rehabilitation and Transplant Program at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center has special expertise in minimizing risk of liver failure in children with short bowel syndrome.

Putting People First

Diane Amato As Administrator of Columbia's Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Diane Amato plays a dual role: She uses her business acumen to keep the office running smoothly, streamlining billing procedures, and managing a staff of 22 health care professionals. In addition, she serves as an outreach coordinator for Craig Smith, MD, Chief of the division, providing medical information, practical support, and a good old-fashioned dose of TLC for all those in his care. "This is a passion, not a job," she says. "People are my number one priority."

Heart transplanted at birth, Jordan Trimarchi thrives at age 1

Heart transplanted at birth, Jordan Trimarchi thrives at age 1 Brooklyn newborn Jordan Trimarchi received a second chance at life, when an anonymous gift of a replacement heart was transplanted into his tiny body by Dr. Jan M. Quaegebeur. Exactly a year later, on January 26, 2006, Jordan was back at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. But this time he and his parents came to celebrate the child's excellent health and normal development with his doctors.

Window of Opportunity: A remarkable story of miracle and medicine

Window of Opportunity: A remarkable story of miracle and medicine The bad news for the lovely young patient was that she was born and raised high in the mountains of Mexico, where medical care was rudimentary at best. No one there detected the heart defect present since birth: a gaping hole between her aorta and pulmonary artery that allowed blood to flow from one great vessel to the other. Left untreated, this aortopulmonary window, or "AP window," causes pulmonary hypertension and vascular disease, as well as irreversible heart and lung damage and premature death.

The Power of a Handshake: Ramona Gomez Gains Choices with ETS

Until recently, Ramona Gomez, a 39-year-old insurance consultant from Rockaway, New Jersey, had to offer her clients hugs instead of handshakes because of her pronounced fear of one thing—her sweaty palms. "I could literally hold my hand parallel to the ground and you could see the sweat drip off of it," explains Mrs. Gomez.

As long as she can remember, Mrs. Gomez says both her hands and feet would sweat. "I can remember as early as third grade feeling uncomfortable taking off my sneakers at a friend's house. There was always an odor because my feet were constantly wet. I remember not wanting to wear sandals because my feet would slip around in sweat. I don't think a day ever went by that I didn't sweat."

In her early 20s, Mrs. Gomez found some initial answers. She learned that she had a medical condition known as hyperhidrosis, which literally means excessive sweating.

Lisa Goetze Gets Going with Gastric Bypass Surgery

Roux-en-Y Gastric Bypass

Growing up, Lisa Goetze always detested gym class. "I never liked to sweat. I believed running was pointless unless you were being chased by someone with a knife."  In fact, running was never an option for Ms. Goetze. For her, the mere act of walking was a battle. Throughout her life Ms. Goetze had struggled with morbid obesity. Her world as an adult consisted of commuting from home to work, and work to home. Venturing anywhere beyond those places was rare and extremely difficult because at 550 pounds she could only stand for a limited amount of time. In 2000, Ms Goetze underwent gastric bypass surgery—a decision that changed her life, and more importantly, her attitude regarding healthy living and remaining active. Today, she is a 32-year-old full-time business professional and part-time personal trainer in Bergen County, New Jersey. After a very long and difficulty journey, she has learned to appreciate a full routine—and a little sweat in her life.

Never Let Them See You Sweat: A Patient Puts an End to Facial Sweating with ETS

A 31-year-old attorney from West Orange, New Jersey, who asked that his name not be mentioned in this article, thought he had an anxiety problem when he would sweat excessively in the courtroom. "I thought it was just me, that it was a simple case of suffering from lack of self-confidence or nerves," he says. But there was one problem with that assumption—he was not feeling nervous; he was feeling perfectly confident. So, why was sweat trickling down his forehead every time he had an audience? The attorney began a personal journey to get to the bottom of a case that had remained a mystery for years.

Getting a Grip on Palmar Hyperhidrosis

Most people haven't heard of hyperhidrosis and, once they do, they'd probably never guess what the word means: excessive sweating. About 1% of adults suffer from hyperhidrosis, even though many of them don't even realize it. However, there is one dead give-away—sweat, and lots of it.

A 27-year-old graphic designer, who asked that her name not be mentioned in this article, knows the symptoms of hyperhidrosis all too well. For all of her life she has suffered from palmar hyperhidrosis, or sweaty palms. The most common manifestation of the condition, palmar hyperhidrosis is also the most challenging for patients because it is extremely difficult to control. Like many people with palmar hyperhidrosis, the designer also suffered from plantar hyperhidrosis, or sweaty feet. In recent years, she had noticed that the condition had spread to her armpits (axillary hyperhidrosis) as well.

"As far back as I can remember, I've always had sweaty hands," she says. "They were always wet and cold, and just left me feeling uncomfortable. They would sweat from morning to tonight, for no reason at all; nothing would trigger it, not even temperature. Even in the freezing cold of winter, they were sweaty."

PATIENT PROFILE: My Experience in a Clinical Trial

John Smith

When occupational therapist John Smith turned 50, his primary care physician recommended that he have a colonoscopy. Much to his surprise, the results showed stage I colon cancer. Knowing he needed to undergo surgery, Mr. Smith came to Columbia for a second opinion and to learn more about laparoscopic colorectal surgery. During his visit, Mr. Smith learned that Columbia surgeon-investigators were conducting a clinical trial that could help boost the immune system around the time of surgery. The trial was randomized, meaning that Mr. Smith would not know whether he received the treatment or a placebo. He chose to participate because he realized that the trial could benefit other people one day and because it shifted his focus to the positive—toward boosting his immune system.

Robert Minaert Learns a Lesson in Self-Healing from the Integrative Medicine Program

"I had never even heard of qigong before I encountered the Integrative Medicine Program at Columbia. Now, I take a qigong class once a week and I love it," says 57-year-old Robert Minaert.

Mr. Minaert, a resident of Hyattsville, Maryland, made the trip from Maryland to New York to have mitral valve surgery partially because of the Integrative Medicine Program at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center. "When I did research on what hospitals in close proximity to me could provide top-notch doctors, there were various options—but Columbia was the only place that came up which utilized complementary and alternative medicine," explains Mr. Minaert.

David Pressler Paints a Three-Dimensional Picture of the Human Heart

David Pressler gives spectators a look at his artwork, HEARTIFACTS™.

David Pressler, a resident of Fairfield, Connecticut, refuses to take his heart for granted. "The heart, as I learned from my personal experience, is a muscle that needs to be exercised and oxygenated on a regular basis. We go through life never thinking about our heart until we have a problem—then often it's too late. Some of us, like myself, are very fortunate to get a second chance," says Mr. Pressler.

An artist, photographer, designer, and marketing communications consultant, Mr. Pressler was diagnosed with mitral valve regurgitation in January 2003. Mitral valve regurgitation is a common and potentially serious heart condition that can lead to arrhythmias or congestive heart failure. The mitral valve is a one-way valve that connects the left atrium and the left ventricle of the heart. With mitral valve regurgitation, the valve does not seal completely and blood leaks back into the left atrium. This reverse flow (regurgitation) can cause the heart to enlarge and the lungs to fill with fluid. Signs and symptoms may include an audible heart murmur, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations.

Travis Batey's LVAD Keeps his Heart and Hope Alive

HeartMate XVE left ventricular assist device
The HeartMate® XVE left ventricular assist device is illustrated.

Travis Batey feels extremely fortunate that he'll reach his 25th birthday this summer. "It's hard to believe I'm actually still here," Travis says. Over a year and a half ago, Travis was diagnosed with end-stage chronic congestive heart failure. The prognosis for his future looked bleak at best. Dependent on a 24-hour IV pump, Travis was virtually homebound. He was always short of breath and the pressure on his heart was becoming more unbearable with each passing day. His condition forced Travis to drop out of college in his sophomore year and to give up on many of the things he enjoyed most in life—like playing golf and going on ski trips. He spent most of his days sitting in a chair. A man-made implantable heart pump known as an LVAD (left ventricular assist device) not only extended the life of Travis' heart, but gave him and his family new hope for the future.

The Many Faces Behind a Mission

Ren Wei Zhang
Ren Wei Zhang

Dr. Jeffrey Ascherman met eight-year-old Ren Wei Zhang on a humanitarian mission to China in April 2002. Ren Wei was born with a facial cleft, a rare physical malformation. Dr. Ascherman's humanitarian mission marked the beginning of a long and arduous campaign to bring Ren Wei to The Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital of NewYork-Presbyterian for reconstructive surgery. A united team joined the campaign, in the hopes of offering one young boy an opportunity for a better life.

Heart Transplants Promise New Lives for Infant Twins

Heart Transplants Promise New Lives for Infant Twins

When Sharon Harper found out she was carrying twins, she cried for joy. Born September 10, 2000 after an easy labor, Tiana and Briana arrived four minutes apart, two happy, healthy girls. Three months later, as the Harpers were preparing for Christmas, their lives were turned upside down when Tiana developed a breathing problem, and two days after Christmas, Briana also got very sick. The Harpers were told that the twins had cardiomyopathy, and that heart transplantation was the only hope for them.

Maternal-Fetal Medicine and Pediatric Surgery

Kim and Bob Ageloff iwth Will, Kyle, and Josh. Careful fetal monitoring and postnatal surgeries helped Will and Josh survive and thrive.

One thing most parents do not look for during pregnancy is surprise. For Kim and Bob Ageloff of Greenwich, CT, pregnancy was "one surprise after another, from start to finish," Mrs. Ageloff said. The collaborative resources of the Maternal - Fetal - Medicine Program of Sloane Hospital for Women and the Pediatric Surgery Service at Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital of CUMC turned life-threatening surprises into happy outcomes for the Ageloffs and their twin sons, Will and Josh.

Video-Assisted Thoracic Surgery for Early-Stage Lung Cancer

When Leah Richter of Englewood, NJ lost her voice during the spring she was referred to an ear-nose-and-throat specialist in Englewood. "He diagnosed a reflux problem and put me on 20 mg of Prilosec. It didn't help."

A colleague then suggested that Mrs. Richter see a second ENT specialist, who noticed that her right vocal cord didn't look quite as "good" as the left. He ordered MRI and CT scans of her neck and lungs. The CT radiologist saw a lesion in her lung that was suspicious for lung cancer and referred her for a scan at Columbia Kreitchman PET Center. PET scanning is a new imaging technique used to differentiate benign from malignant tumors. Sure enough, Mrs. Richter's PET scan showed an abnormal lesion, and a needle biopsy confirmed that the lesion was malignant.

Surgery Weighs In as a Cure for Obesity

After Lynda's surgery...

If you are considering having surgery to treat obesity, the first step is to find a comprehensive program such as the Center for Obesity Surgery at Columbia University Medical Center. The staff includes a nurse practitioner and registered dietitian, both experts in post-surgical weight management, who are readily available to patients.

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