Mati says he felt confident that he was getting a team of leading experts, who would work through any complexities his case presented. For example, when Dr. Naka started the operation, he saw that, due to previous repair work, Mati had little pericardium, the membrane surrounding the heart, which made it difficult to “explant the heart.”
“Usually, I spend about two hours from the skin incision to take the heart out,” Dr. Naka says. In Mati’s case, the surgery took over three hours, but was successful, and Mati was soon in recovery. He had been told that he wasn’t going to be able to get up and walk the next day, but Mati had other plans.
“He said he decided that morning that he was going to get up and walk,” recalls Dr. Naka, who is also the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Professor in Cardiothoracic Surgery (I) and a professor of cardiothoracic surgery at Weill Cornell Medicine. “I think I slept in my office because [surgery] went to midnight or so… And then, the next day, early in the morning, I went to the ICU and Mati was doing fine.”
When Dr. Naka went back to the ICU later that day, he couldn’t believe what he saw.
“I was so surprised that he was walking,” Dr. Naka says, admitting he may have shed a tear. “I’ve never seen this, because transplant patients don’t walk the next day.”
“It’s hard to describe the feeling,” Mati says, “going from such a damaged heart to a new, properly functioning heart.”