Surgeons Perform Region's First Adult Combined Heart-Liver Transplant

Jess Gomez



MURRAY, Utah - Mike Mader of Salt Lake City knows a thing or two about heart attacks. In the past nine years, he’s suffered 16 of them – and he’s only 31.

Very few people have 16 heart attacks and live to talk about it, but Mader not only survived those episodes, he is thriving after becoming the first adult recipient in the Intermountain West to receive a combined heart / liver transplant at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray on April 23. 

Mader suffers from a genetic disorder called familial hypercholesterolmia that causes the liver to be unable to process cholesterol. Because his liver was not working properly, Maders’ cholesterol levels skyrocketed to abnormally high levels. This led to clogged arteries and the development of coronary artery disease and his multiple heart attacks, which permanently damaged his heart.

“Before the transplant my cholesterol level was well over 500,” the 31-year-old West Jordan resident says. “Now, it’s about 140, which is where it should be.”

The genetic disorder runs in Mader’s family. He was diagnosed when he was three years old. His mother battles abnormally high cholesterol and most of the men on that side of Mader’s family, including his grandfather, have died at a young age. 

On April 22, after waiting for three years for a compatible heart and liver to become available, Mader got the call from the Intermountain Medical Center Transplant team that he had been waiting for: a compatible heart and liver were available for transplantation. He underwent his life-saving multiple-organ transplant the next day on April 23 and was discharged from Intermountain Medical Center on May 6. 

 “I can’t believe how good I feel now,” Mader says. “I have been so sick for so long that I forgot what it was like to feel good. I now have energy and feel rested. It’s just been an amazing transformation.” 

Only a few centers in the United States, like Intermountain Medical Center, have both the expertise and resources to take on a complex procedure like a combined organ transplant and the possible complications that could follow it. The Intermountain Medical Center Transplant Program is one of the most experienced and advanced transplant centers in the nation. When the organs became available, the heart and liver transplant teams at Intermountain Medical Center were well prepared for the dual organ transplant, says Willem Van der Werf, MD, Chief of the Division of Transplant Surgery at Intermountain Medical Center. 

“The transplant surgery went very well,” he says. “The fact that Mike is doing so well speaks volumes to the dedication and ability of our entire heart and liver transplant teams at Intermountain Medical Center. We were very well prepared, and from a medical and surgical perspective, it all went according to plan.” 

Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute cardiac surgeon Kent Jones, MD, agrees. Both procedures alone are complicated, and doing them together is a testament to the quality of Intermountain’s transplant program, he says. 

"I can’t tell you the hours that went into the planning of this and the game plan. It was monumental, and it involved hundreds of people." 

The transplant teams include a multidisciplinary team of specialists who manage the patient’s care following the transplant: nurses, transplant coordinators, pharmacists, dietary specialists and others. In the last 20 years, only 122 adult combined heart/liver transplants have been performed in the US. In Region 5, which includes Utah, Arizona, California and New Mexico, only 11 of the dual transplants have been performed. 

While a combined heart and liver transplant is rarely performed, the Intermountain Medical Center transplant team’s experience now offers new hope for Utah patients like Mader, who have limited options for survival.

“We have a young man sitting here who’s had the gift of two organs from some family that was kind enough to give that gift of life,” said Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon John Doty, MD. “He looks terrific. If you passed him on the street, you wouldn’t know he’s had a transplant." 

“I am very grateful for the great care that I received and for the opportunity to have a second chance at life. I’m looking forward to healthy life for the first time,” he says.
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