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New heart allows Eugene man to plan his future

OHSU has implanted 2 donated hearts, 9 heart pumps since 2019
man smiling and hugging his wife, as she looks at him adoringly
John Masson is the second person to receive a heart transplant at OHSU since 2019. John and his high school sweetheart and wife of 43 years, Diane, live in Eugene and are making plans for the future for the first time in years. (OHSU/Kristyna Wentz-Graff)

Just hours after her husband had received a new heart, she could already see he was a new man.

“He had a color in him that I hadn’t seen in years,” Diane Masson said of her husband, John Masson, who underwent a heart transplant between the late hours of June 2 and the early morning of June 3. “His cheeks were so nice and pink, I asked nurses to take a picture of us together.”

John Masson, 63 and of Eugene, is the second OHSU patient to receive a heart transplant since the university’s Heart Failure and Transplant Program reactivated in August 2019. After about two months of close clinical supervision in Portland, his OHSU health care team says John is doing well. As a result, he and his wife were able to return to their Eugene home about a week ago and start life anew.

woman wearing a mask, hugging a man in a hospital bed, connected to a lot of machines and tubes
Diane Masson noted the color in her husband John's face right away, just hours after he underwent a heart transplant in June. His cheeks were so nice and pink, I asked nurses take a picture of us together, said Diane Masson. John Masson is the second person to receive a heart transplant at OHSU since 2019. (Photo courtesy Masson family)

“Even my worst post-transplant day has been far better than any day I had three or four years before the transplant,” says John, a retired car dealership manager. “Each day I’m getting stronger and healthier.”

Health challenges run in John’s family. His grandmother, father, uncle, brother and son have had all had a variety of heart problems. But it wasn’t until around 2011, when OHSU specialists diagnosed John with inherited mutations in two genes that control heart muscle structure and function, that he understood why.

John tried working jobs involving manual labor in high school, but he didn’t have the energy. He also briefly took up bicycling, but quickly grew tired. John experienced irregular heartbeats that led him to have four different pacemakers implanted and a number of other procedures over time. It became apparent about five years ago that he needed more intervention, and he began his journey toward a heart transplant.

luke masha, seated at a table and talking with other docs, wearing a white coat
Luke Masha, M.D., M.P.H., cardiologist. (OHSU/Fritz Liedtke)

John sincerely appreciates everyone who helped him throughout the transplant process, but he is especially thankful for the support of Luke Masha, M.D., M.P.H., one of four new heart failure cardiologists to join OHSU since 2019 and who John says was particularly dogged in ensuring he could receive a new heart during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“Everybody here has been as involved and invested in my heart transplant as I am,” John said of OHSU. “They took me under their wing and said, ‘don’t worry about it, you deal with what you need to deal with, and we’ll take care of the rest.’”

“I am glad Mr. Masson trusted us with his care, and am delighted by the fantastic outcome we had with his heart transplant,” Masha said. “It was the result of both the combined effort of many incredibly talented individuals here at OHSU, as well as Mr. Masson’s own remarkable will, drive and spirit.”

As John and his high school sweetheart and wife of 43 years settle back into their Eugene home, the couple is making plans for the future for the first time in years.

“My youngest grandchild only knows me as being sick,” John says. “I used to play baseball with my oldest grandchild, but my heart took a turn for the worse and I had to slow down. Now Diane and I are thinking about going camping and fishing, hiking Silver Falls, and doing so many other things with our grandkids. We are looking forward to all of that.”

Team focused on patient success

Deborah Meyers, M.D.
Deborah Meyers, M.D.

John Masson’s ongoing recovery is a tremendous motivator for the OHSU Heart Failure and Transplant Program team, which is led by Deborah Meyers, M.D., who joined OHSU in April after nearly 20 years of heart transplantation, advanced heart failure and related cardiology care.

“Stories like Mr. Masson’s are why I love being an advanced heart failure cardiologist,” Meyers said. “I am also continually humbled and awed by the generosity of the donors and their families that make a selfless and priceless gift that allows a miracle to occur for a patient like Mr. Masson. It is truly the best we can do for one another as humans, and I am honored to be a part of the process.”

group of doctors seated at a table having a meeting
Members of the OHSU Heart Failure and Transplant Program team, from left: Fred Tibayan, M.D., surgery director, Luke Masha, M.D., M.P.H., cardiologist, Johannes Steiner, M.D., cardiologist, Nalini Colaco, M.D., Ph.D., cardiologist and Heather Miller Webb, R.N., heart transplant coordinator. (OHSU/Fritz Liedtke)

Meyers and the larger team provide the sickest of heart failure patients the opportunity for a transplant, and also help prevent others from needing invasive interventions like transplants by providing key preventative care now.

“There's so much that we can do now to make people feel better and to improve their situation,” Meyers said. 

In addition to two heart transplants, the OHSU Heart Failure and Transplant Program has implanted nine heart pumps, or ventricular assist devices, in patients since reactivating in 2019. All of these patients are doing well.

In addition to Meyers, OHSU’s comprehensive heart failure team includes advanced heart failure cardiologists Nalini Colaco, M.D., Ph.D.Luke Masha, M.D., M.P.H., and Johannes Steiner, M.D.; heart surgeons Howard Song, M.D., Ph.D., and Fred Tibayan, M.D.; and a large multidisciplinary team of social workers, nurse coordinators, pharmacists and other skilled clinicians with extensive expertise in providing advanced cardiovascular services.

Since performing Oregon’s first heart transplant in 1985, OHSU’s highly specialized team has transplanted more than 700 hearts. 

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