Mary’s Story

Celebrating Life: 37-Year-Old Woman Receives Heart-Lung Transplant

Mary Rose Sessler stands with UH team members who performed her heart-lung transplant

Mary Rose Sessler of Eastlake, Ohio, was born with a congenital heart defect – a hole in her heart – but she didn’t know about the defect until the age of 29. When her symptoms finally manifested, they were so severe that her only option was a heart-lung transplant. Denied for a transplant by the first hospital system she sought for help, Mary Rose came to University Hospitals, where at age 37 she received a second chance at life.

Mary Rose’s symptoms first appeared in 2007, shortly after she departed the Philippine Army Ready Reserves to attend caregiving training. “I started experiencing breathing problems and loss of appetite,” said Mary Rose. “Then it progressed to pulmonary hypertension. I knew I needed to find the cause.”

After being denied for a transplant by another Northeast Ohio health system, Mary Rose reached out to UH for help. She met with Robert Schilz, DO, Director, Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, UH Transplant Institute and Guilherme Oliveira, MD, Director of the Advanced Heart Failure and Transplant Center at UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute. They thoroughly explained Mary Rose’s condition, and walked her through the complex, but essential care plan.

“Mary Rose was born with a hole in her heart, which profoundly altered the blood vessels in her chest,” said Dr. Schilz. “This caused increased pressure in her lungs, resulting in reduced oxygen levels and progressive heart failure. She continued to deteriorate despite maximum medical therapy, leaving heart-lung transplant as our only option.”

In the United States, heart-lung transplants are relatively rare, with approximately 30 performed each year. Recipients are placed on a special transplant list, and the organs to be transplanted must come from the same donor.

After nearly a year on the transplant list, Mary Rose received a call at 4:00 one morning from the UH Transplant Institute – she had been matched with a donor. “I felt nauseous, but excited at the possibility of a new life,” said Mary Rose. That day, she received a new heart and lungs.

The nearly 10-hour surgery – performed at UH Cleveland Medical Center by Benjamin Medalion, MD – took place on March 16, 2019 and was the first procedure of its type at UH. Dr. Medalion is Director, Cardiac Surgery and Director, Mechanical Circulatory Support, UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute.

Mary Rose recovered in the hospital for two weeks, and was then discharged home to begin a new life. Pulmonary rehabilitation helps her continue getting stronger.

When asked if she and her husband, Sean, had any plans to celebrate, Mary Rose replied, “We celebrate every day.” Sean agreed, saying “It’s the little things like going to the grocery store together that we consider victories. We couldn’t do those things for the past four years, and thanks to UH – now we can.”