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Mike's Story: A Life-Saving Heart Transplant Journey

The Trinkleys

Christmas 2014 is one Mike and Deb Trinkley would just as soon forget. When most families were opening presents, Mike was fighting for his life at Lancaster General Hospital. He had suffered a heart attack—his second one—and was told he needed a heart transplant.

That's when LG Health cardiac surgeon Dr. Mark Epler called his colleagues at Penn Medicine.

A History of Heart Disease

Mike and his family moved to the Lancaster area in 2005. Originally from western Pennsylvania, Mike's job in insurance took him around the country and eventually to Charlotte, NC. He had a long-standing history of heart disease, so when it came time to move to Lancaster, his Charlotte cardiologist recommended The Heart Group of Lancaster General Health follow his care. Mike immediately made an appointment to see Dr. Ward Pulliam.

Dr. Pulliam implanted Mike with a pacemaker defibrillator to regulate his heart rhythm.

"For a while, everything was fine," explains Mike. "But then in the fall of 2014, I started having issues with heartburn and was implanted with another stent. The left side of my heart was badly damaged."

A Heart-Assist Device Is Implanted

By mid-December, Mike was having chest pain. After two or three days, he went to the emergency room at Lancaster General Hospital. He was having a heart attack. Dr. Epler implanted an LVAD, a left ventricular assist device, to keep him alive. Despite these efforts, his defibrillator went off three nights in a row, indicating his heart was out of rhythm.

"On Christmas morning, Mike's heart became erratic," Deb remembers. "We thought we lost him. Dr. Epler explained it was time for a heart transplant. That's when he got on the phone with the doctors at Penn. Dr. Epler kept reassuring me Mike was going to be ok. He said he was otherwise healthy. His positive attitude was very uplifting and gave me hope. I was scared, but we knew we were in good hands at LG Health and that everything would be ok at Penn."

Airlift to Penn

A helicopter took Mike to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania later that day.

"Everything was coordinated and went very smoothly," recalls Deb. "Even the helicopter pilot was kind enough to call when Mike arrived safely in Philadelphia."

On January 8, a donor heart became available and Mike was taken into surgery.

"I said a lot of prayers," says Deb. "The counselors at Penn were great. They held my hand and made sure I was prepared for what lay ahead."

Successful Surgery and Rehab

After a successful surgery and more than a month in the hospital, Mike was transferred to Magee Rehab. When he was strong enough to be discharged, he came home to Lancaster and completed outpatient cardiac rehab at LG Health.

It's been a long journey, but today Mike is feeling great. An avid boater, he went on his first trip out on the water in June 2015 and went back to work fulltime in November. Deb and Mike’s two daughters are thankful for the care he received at both hospitals.

"Everyone was great at both places: the medical teams, the nurses—every step of the way. They really took care of us."

As 2021 begins, Mike continues to do well, receiving regular follow-up care at the Heart & Vascular Institute at Lancaster General Health.

Listen to Mike and Deb describe their journey.

About LG Health Hub

The LG Health Hub features breaking medical news and straightforward advice to help individuals of all ages make healthy choices and reach their wellness goals. The blog puts articles by trusted Lancaster General Health clinical experts, good 'n healthy recipes, videos, patient stories, and health risk assessments at your fingertips.


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