Cardiac Rehabilitation and Heart Transplant Gives Patient a New Life

Jim and his wife, Pam.

Jim and his wife, Pam.

At age 37 in 1984, Jim Greco had his first heart attack. No longer able to perform his job as a Washington, D.C. firefighter, he retired in 1985 and moved to Columbia shortly thereafter. Today, at 66, thanks to cardiac rehabilitation and a heart transplant, he is one of the few surviving males in his family, one with a strong history of heart disease.

Helping Jim to rebound from a series of significant cardiac events throughout the last 28 years were several caregivers involved with the HCGH Cardiac Rehabilitation Program. “This program and these people are the reason I am here today,”  Jim says.

The first such person is Anne Headrick, RN BSN, who started the cardiac rehabilitation program nearly 25 years ago with David Jackson, M.D., a local cardiologist. “In the early years, cardiac rehabilitation was a treadmill in a small office at the hospital,” remembers Jim.

Jim has endured a total of four heart attacks, quintuple bypass surgery, multiple implanted pacemakers and defibrillators, and an ejection fraction of only about 20 percent, meaning his heart could barely pump blood throughout his body. His heart was literally broken. After other treatments had been exhausted, cardiologist Steven Kaufman, M.D., ultimately referred him to Stuart Russell, M.D., a heart transplant specialist at the Johns Hopkins Comprehensive Transplant Center, who became involved in his care five years ago. Jim was placed on the waiting list for a new heart.

Jim waited almost three years – until finally, a heart that matched his needs became available. Although he never felt “that sick,” after the surgery, doctors remarked about how he had survived all those years with such a sick heart. “His heart was large, it looked much worse than our testing told us it was,” Dr. Russell says. Jim’s recovery and adjustment to life as a transplant recipient is ongoing and difficult at times, but he credits many people for saving his life.

Jim is grateful to his wife, Pam, to whom he proposed marriage the day before one of his heart attacks seventeen years ago. That day, the HCGH emergency room called her with the bad news and she has stayed by his side ever since. Jim says this kind of support was essential to his survival.

He also credits the clinical team in today’s Cardiac Rehabilitation Program, Preeti Benjamin and Suzie Jeffreys, among others. “I have been through cardiac rehabilitation four times and, as a result, I have healthy habits and was strong enough to be a transplant candidate,” says Jim.

The Cardiac Rehabilitation staff and classmates are his built-in support group, so he gives back by serving on a hospital committee and by participating with local organizations.

Jim, thankful to be alive, appreciates his family, the caring rehabilitation specialists, the gift of life from the person who donated his heart…and the miracles performed at Johns Hopkins.


See the full story on video


Learn More About Life-saving Organ Donation and Transplant

For more information on the importance of organ donation and the incredible work of the transplant specialists, visit the Johns Hopkins Comprehensive Transplant Center.