Celebrating 30 years in heart transplantation

The heartbeat of the UF Health Shands Heart Transplant Program — Susan Learn

When patients undergo transplantation at UF Health Shands Transplant Center, they become like family for our staff. Transplant recipients and our employees regularly become vested in each other’s lives. Together they celebrate birthdays, graduations, marriages and births long after they meet in the hospital.

Susan Learn

Susan Learn

The patient-centric culture of the UF Health Shands Transplant Center can be traced back to its beginnings. If you ask the Heart Transplant Program staff, it began with their current program manager, Susan Learn, R.N., M.S.N., CCTC. She started with the program in 1988 — three years after its inception in 1985.

“We only had about 20 heart transplant recipients at that time and about a half a dozen or so on the waiting list,” Learn said. “I remember memorizing the medical record, phone and beeper numbers as well as the blood type and body weight of every patient on the waiting list at that time.”

Now the UF Health Shands Transplant Center and the heart transplant program serve patients within UF Health Shands Hospital, UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital and the UF Health Congenital Heart Center.

Learn thrives on giving patients what matters most — hope.

“There is nothing like taking care of patients who are facing death and get a second chance at life with a transplant,” she said. “Being able to offer a father the chance to walk their daughter down the aisle, being given more time to witness their grandchildren being born, or to offer a parent with a child born with a congenital heart disease the ability to live and grow up — there is no better gift.”

Learn was one of only two coordinators with our program in 1988. The adult and pediatric program now boasts a staff of more than 12 advanced practice nurses, four nurse coordinators and eight office transplant assistants. Learn has witnessed both staff evolution and care process model changes.

“Our program was initially driven by our thoracic surgeons and one nephrologist,” she said. “It’s been a tremendous evolution of our program to witness the partnership between cardiology and cardiothoracic surgery become so collaborative and work together as a complete multidisciplinary care team in heart transplant.”

Another big change for patients has been technological advances and innovation in the treatment therapies of heart failure.

“I was there when they implanted the first artificial heart,” Learn said. “And I was there to see when we performed the first 70cc Syncardia temporary artificial heart on a child in need of more time and cardiac support to await a suitable donor heart.”

Learn looks forward to what the future holds as UF Health continues to be a leader in heart transplantation.

“It will be very exciting to see what the next 30 years brings to advanced heart disease,” she said. “We will have a total implantable heart device, and we continue to investigate the potential of stem cell therapies for heart failure. I look forward to an alternative where there is no need for immunosuppression, and our patients can live a normal healthy life after heart disease.”

“We have a wonderful team that provides outstanding care and we look forward to growing our program in the future, especially as we build our new cardiovascular hospital that has state-of-the-art facilities.”

Thomas Beaver, M.D., M.P.H., UF College of Medicine thoracic and cardiothoracic surgery chief

“After 30 years of participating in cardiac transplantation, we continue to provide exceptional and individualized patient care. At UF Health, you’re not just a heart transplant number; you are part of the heart transplant family.”

Juan Aranda, M.D., FACC, UF College of Medicine cardiologist and UF Health Shands Transplant Center Heart Transplant/Ventricular Assist Device Program medical director

UF Health Shands Transplant Center Heart Transplant Program

On Aug. 25, 1985, UF Health Shands Hospital surgeons performed the state of Florida’s first heart transplant and the Heart Transplant Program was born. Over the last 30 years, our teams have performed more than 900 heart transplants and implanted more than 285 mechanical circulatory devices in adult and pediatric patients.