Organ recipients celebrate full lives

FRIENDS IN A HEARTBEAT

August 29, 1993|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,Staff Writer

Carolyn Kramer was sure, on that day eight years ago, that the doctors must have mistaken her for someone else.

They had walked into her room at Johns Hopkins Hospital and told her -- 33 years old, wife, mother of a newborn and two toddlers -- that she needed a heart transplant.

"I can remember looking around and thinking, 'Are they talking about me?' " Mrs. Kramer said.

They were.

And eight years later, Mrs. Kramer runs a Bel Air household that includes children 8, 10 and 12 ("Anyone who's got three kids knows what that's like."), does aerobics and lectures on organ donation.

Yesterday, she was among about 60 heart-transplant recipients who celebrated their second chances -- and the 10th anniversary of the Johns Hopkins Heart Transplant Program -- with a picnic at the West Severna Park Community Beach.

This was more than a party. This was part family reunion, part thanksgiving and part testimonial to personal faith and medical wonders.

Doctors and former patients passed around photos of children and grandchildren, updated each other on weddings and births, watched each other's kids swim.

"We're a big family now," Mrs. Kramer, 41, said of the other transplant patients she's gotten to know through the support group they attend each month. "We have each other. We're not '' just existing. We're living life to the fullest," she said.

Dr. William Baumgartner, who directs the transplant program, and Dr. Edward K. Kasper, medical director of the cardiomyopathy and heart transplant service, were calling out patients' names, listening to tales of vacation trips, trading jokes.

Al Korman, 63, of Lutherville, has had two transplants. Before that, he'd had bypass surgery. Yesterday, he pointed to his chest and said to Dr. Kasper, "I keep telling you guys, 'Put a zipper in.'"

Over the last 10 years, 171 patients have had heart transplants at Hopkins; 107 are still alive. With the development of new anti-rejection drugs, patients today have a far better chance of long-term survival than recipients a decade ago, Dr. Baumgartner said.

Mrs. Kramer, who had her surgery five months to the day after her daughter's birth, did not fare well her first year after the transplant.

"I had every known side effect. I gave them new ones they hadn't seen before," she said. But with new medications, her problems are few.

Until giving birth to her third child, Mrs. Kramer had always been healthy. Then, for reasons doctors aren't sure of, she'd developed cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart muscle atrophies. The doctors told her to go home and discuss heart transplantation with her husband and family.

"I said, 'There's no discussion we need to have. There's no decision to make. I have children I want to know. I want to live,' " Mrs. Kramer recalled.

Mr. Korman laughed as he recounted his reaction four years ago to the doctors' recommendation of a heart transplant.

"You couldn't print what I told them," he said.

But his wife, Pat, remembers only elation.

"We knew then there was hope," she said.

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