Working Every Day To Advance Heart Disease Research and Care


Heart Month. National Minority Health Month. National Donate Life Month. Rise Above Heart Failure Day. National Women’s Health Week. These are just some of the heart-health-related events we’ve recognized so far in 2016, reinforcing our everyday commitment to leadership in heart disease research and patient care.

On April 14, we joined the Heart Failure Society of America and had some fun with red socks to “Rise Above Heart Failure,” drawing attention to this serious condition that affects 6 million people in the United States.

What Is Heart Failure?

Contrary to what the name suggests, heart failure does not mean that the heart suddenly stops working. Instead, heart failure occurs as a result of a damaged and sometimes weakened heart muscle. Injury to the heart, such as damage caused by a heart attack, high blood pressure or abnormalities in a heart valve, are all causes of heart damage that sometimes lead to heart failure. A damaged heart must work harder to continue normal blood flow to the body. Because the word “failure” has such a negative connotation, we prefer to call this condition advanced heart disease. This term is actually more accurate – any underlying heart disease, when it becomes advanced, can cause heart failure. Unfortunately, advanced heart disease manifesting as heart failure is hard to diagnose, and often not recognized until its later stages.

Improving the Odds of Living Longer, Better

At the UA Sarver Heart Center, our growing Advanced Heart Disease Team is working to raise awareness about the disease, including how to detect it. We want to empower patients to work with the right health-care providers to improve the odds of living longer with a better quality of life despite advanced heart disease. The UA Sarver Heart Center Advanced Heart Disease Team provides a full spectrum of care for patients, including personalized medication management, catheterization procedure for valve disease in patients considered to be high risk for open-heart surgery, and mechanical circulatory assist devices to help the heart pump blood, the total artificial heart and heart transplantation.


Jerry Stanaford (front, center), a patient from Midland, Texas, was in Tucson for a “tune up” of his left ventricular assist device. He’s pictured with members of the mechanical circulatory support team.

Given his family history, Jerry Stanaford of Midland, Texas, wasn’t too surprised when he had his first heart attack in 1997 and required five coronary artery bypass grafts (CABG) to get back on his feet. “My father had his first CABG at age 65. After many years of heart problems, my mother died from heart failure at age 82,” said Jerry.

His heart disease did take him by surprise five years later when several heart attacks in a row caused damage that began his battle with advanced heart disease. His cardiologist in Midland managed his condition aggressively with medications until he became very sick in January 2014.

By Thanksgiving of that year, he was on oxygen and his doctor started talking about an implantable heart pump. That’s when his sons, who work in the medical device sector, told him about a surgeon they trusted in Tucson – Zain Khalpey, MD, PhD, a cardiothoracic surgeon and Sarver Heart Center member who is doing exciting research with stem cells to repair damaged heart muscle in advanced heart disease.

First stop in Tucson was an evaluation with Nancy K. Sweitzer, MD, PhD, director of the UA Sarver Heart Center who is chief of cardiology and a board-certified heart failure specialist. “I was assessed by a team of about 10 people, including Dr. Kapil Lotun. I had a blockage behind my heart and Dr. Lotun said, ‘I can fix it.’ It took him 11 hours and seven stents, but that wasn’t enough to improve the heart muscle and restore adequate blood flow,” said Jerry.

On Dec. 15, 2014, Jerry underwent surgery to have a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) implanted as permanent therapy to help his heart effectively pump blood through his body. “Dr. Khalpey also poured 8 million stem cells on my heart and a couple million on my lungs,” said Jerry.

Dr. Khalpey, associate professor of surgery, is the Sarver Heart Center Tony A. Marnell, Sr., Endowed Chair for Research in Cardiac Surgery, surgical co-director of Heart Transplantation and surgical director of the Mechanical Circulatory Support and Mitral Valve Program at Banner – University Medical Center Tucson. He was awarded a 20152016 Fulbright Distinguished Chair and has been working collaboratively with Ryszard T. Smolenski, MD, PhD, at the Medical University of Gdansk in Poland, in the field of translational adult stem cell therapy to repair damaged hearts.

“I had thousands of people praying and the best doctors and best team players. I’ve had a year of ups and downs. Now I have lots of energy,” said Jerry.

“We have six grandkids and they used to think he was always sick. Now, they think he’s a young 74 and expect him to play,” said Kathie Stanaford, Jerry’s wife, who is a retired nurse. “This is a remarkable team here. The LVAD provided the perfect answer. We didn’t want no or low quality of life.”

A former tire store owner who retired after 40 years in his business, Jerry is working on adding a house and shop onto the barn home he built. He enjoys his grandchildren and lunch with his friends. He’s looking forward to a golf game that Dr. Khalpey promised him.

“God’s not through with me. I hope I’m smart enough to realize why,” said Jerry.

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