Utahn survives 18 heart attacks, 'monumental' life-saving dual transplant surgery

Published: Thursday, May 30 2013 5:55 p.m. MDT

Mike Mader, center, talks about how life has changed since becoming the first successful combined heart-kidney transplant in an adult patient in the Intermountain West at Intermountain Medical Center on Thursday, May 30, 2013, in Murray. Mader is surrounded by his medical team — from left, Deborah Budge, John Dory, Willem Van der Werf and Kent Jones.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

MURRAY — Waking up healthy every day "still seems like a dream" for one West Jordan man who experienced up to 18 heart attacks in the past nine years, the first at age 22.

"There were a lot of challenges … like never knowing when I would have my next heart attack, or never having a cure," said Michael Mader. "Sudden cardiac death, I mean, it just takes one or two heart attacks to take you out."

Thanks to organ donation, Mader, who was diagnosed at age 3 with a rare genetic liver disease, now has a new lease on life.

About a month ago — after 718 days on a waiting list — he became the state's first adult to receive a combined heart and liver transplant on the same day at Intermountain Medical Center.

"It was the best gift anyone could receive," Mader said Thursday. "It saved my life."

The now-31-year-old IT guy had lost track of how often his heart didn't do its job. He was physically limited as a child, tired more quickly than his peers and has followed a low-cholesterol diet all his life, which has been dotted with surgeries and plentiful medications.

Mader, who suffered with familial hypercholesterolemia, had more stents placed in his old heart than years of his life lived.

"He's been quite sick for some time," Dr. Deborah Budge, Mader's cardiologist at Intermountain Medical Center's Heart Institute said Thursday. His original liver damaged his heart by not efficiently metabolizing cholesterol, which led to blockages in the heart.

Both organs needed replacement for his body to have a chance at functioning properly. Before the April 23 transplant, his cholesterol level was well over 500. It settles around 140, a normal level, now.

At one point, Mader had been told to "set his affairs in order" and prepare for death, said his mother, Susan Nab. She said he is now happy to report "that he's planning for retirement."

Nab, who has endured seven-artery bypass surgery herself, said her children each had a 1-in-3 chance of being born with the disease, which runs in her family. She has had a grandfather die from it in his 20s and also lost a mother and sister to heart attacks.

Other family members are afflicted, but Mader's case is the worst they've seen.

"He's never had any prognosis that was anything but poor," Nab, of Lewiston, Idaho, said through tears. "Michael has been held back his whole life by heart disease."

Dr. John Doty, a cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon at Intermountain who performed Mader's heart transplant, said the nearly four-hour surgery couldn't have gone better.

"We have a young man sitting here who has had the gift of two organs from some family that was kind enough to give that gift of life," Doty said. "He looks terrific. If you passed him on the street, you wouldn’t know he’s had a transplant."

He said more than 200 physicians and hospital personnel played a part in Mader's treatment and transplant process.

Because Mader's condition is so unusual, the dual transplant had only been completed in the western region of the United States 10 times prior to Mader's, said Dr. Willem Van der Werf, a surgeon at Intermountain. Many patients with hypercholesterolemia, he said, don't live into adulthood.

The team knew of only one other Utahn waiting for a similar procedure.

Van der Werf, who transplanted Mader's liver, said the organ served as gene replacement so the new heart could survive.

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