Transplants provide inspiration for recipient to become medical tech

| Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012, 10:16 p.m.

Sil Rossini says he knows what's at stake when he administers echocardiograms to young patients at Children's Hospital.

“I deal with kids who have had transplants, kids who need them. Having my background, having learned about the heart the hard way, I can relate to these kids,” said Rossini, an echocardiogram technician at the hospital.

Rossini had a heart defect that caused cirrhosis of the liver and underwent simultaneous heart and liver transplants at UPMC Presbyterian in 2006. He is one of about 20,000 people who received transplants through the health system since it did its first in 1968.

UPMC said it has performed 1,521 lung transplants, more than any other hospital in the country. UPMC's 1,346 heart transplants puts it among the nation's top five hospitals for the number of heart transplants, the hospital said, and it has done 135 combined heart and lung transplants.

Transplants in the UPMC system are performed at Children's Hospital, UPMC Presbyterian, UPMC Montefiore and UPMC Ismett in Palermo, Italy.

“We are seeing more patients, more complex patients than we have seen in the past. Other hospitals sometimes will not do transplants in complex cases,” said Dr. Christian Bermudez, associate director of the Cardiothoracic Transplant division of cardiac surgery at UPMC.

The heart-lung program has been less problematic than UPMC's live-donor liver and kidney transplants, which last year were closed for more than two months after UPMC acknowledged its surgeons transplanted a kidney from a donor infected with hepatitis C — a mishap health care officials say is extremely rare.

In recent years, UPMC has had lower-than-expected rates of survival for transplant patients, according to the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients, which analyzes data about organ transplant programs at hospitals nationwide. UPMC physicians say those results partially reflect the hospital's willingness to take more challenging and risky patients.

Bermudez and other doctors say they're proud of patients such as Rossini. Before his transplant, he walked with a cane or used a wheelchair. Two years ago, he ran the 100-meter dash and relay races in Team Pittsburgh transplant games.

“I would not have survived without this hospital,” said Rossini, a one-time auto parts dealer who became a medical technician after his transplant surgery.

Jim Uhrig, 66, of Peters received a lung in 2009 and regularly speaks for the Center for Organ Recovery & Education, the agency that administers the organ donation waiting list.

“Speaking is a great opportunity to thank donor families,” said Uhrig, who for years sold high-temperature furnace linings used in steel mills. He now works at a family-owned custom frame shop. Uhrig needed a double lung transplant because of pulmonary fibrosis, a scarring or thickening of the lungs without a known cause.

Uhrig received the lungs of a nurse from Kansas who died from an aneurysm.

“She is an angel to me,” Uhrig said.

Last month, Uhrig ran the 100-meter sprint at the Transplant Games of America in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Allegheny General Hospital in the North Side also operates a transplant program. In 2010, AGH hospital had the highest rate of transplant survivors in the state, according to the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients. Last year, AGH ranked second in the state for the survival rate of transplant patients.

“We stress quality over volume. We work hard at having very careful follow-up care,” said Dr. Raymond Benza, medical director of heart transplants at AGH.

Last year UPMC performed 29 heart transplants and AGH performed 21.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at

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