A CHANCE FOR A NEW BEGINNING
Roxanne thought she’d pulled a muscle.
“I told them ‘I think I pulled a muscle, but it’s been a long time, so I wanted to come and check it out,’” she says of her trip to the emergency room. “And the hospital said ‘fine.’”
But Roxanne, it turned out, wasn’t fine.
“They did EKGs, a whole bunch of tests,” she says today. “And at the end of the tests, they said, ‘you didn’t pull a muscle. You had a heart attack’.”
Salim, a biopharmaceutical company medical researcher who develops immunosuppressant medications for organ transplant patients, believes that silent heart attacks are just as great a risk as those presenting more typical warning signs.
“Many organs can be damaged silently,” Salim observes. “This is one of the misfortunes of life: that we could lose our organs without knowing that we are losing them, and without being able to intervene.”
Although Roxanne had a history of heart disease in her family, she was still in shock when the doctor told her. She had no previous health conditions or issues. She was working full time at a job she loved. But all of that fell by the wayside after the diagnosis – and the prognosis of a tough road ahead, where a heart transplant presented Roxanne’s one, best hope.
It seems time – and hard work – were on her side.
According to Salim, advances in biopharmaceutical research over the past 20 years mean that potential organ transplant patients can be more optimistic about the future than ever before. One big reason is progress in the efficacy of immunosuppressant medications that are integral to helping ensure a successful and sustained organ transplantation.
“Not only have we gained in the efficacy of these anti-rejection drugs, and now the organs survive much longer than they did in the past,” Salim says, “but we also have gained in the ability to lower the side effects of these medications.
“To put it in simpler terms, we’re using very fine brushes, and drawing a path on the wall rather than splashing the wall with paint.”
The hard work of researchers like Salim on anti-rejection medicines helped paint a portait of hope for Roxanne.
“Survival is no longer the only barometer of success in organ transplants,” Salim says. “Due to the advent of anti-rejection drugs that do not compromise a patient’s entire immune system, transplant recipients can be hopeful about regaining the quality of life they once had.”
Salim believes this distinction between surviving and truly living is the greatest benefit of recently developed immunosuppressant drugs. “The current state of transplantation is that we do not simply prolong survival,” he says, “we give an opportunity for a healthy life – a happy, dynamic life.”
It’s been 7 years since Roxanne’s heart transplant. “I never felt I was going to die, even when I was at my sickest,” she says today. “I always thought, ‘I’m going to kick this, I’m going to make it.’”
“I’m a fighter. I fight every day to live, every day I get up and put my feet on the floor.”
For Salim, the strength and resilience of patients like Roxanne inspires the medical research he pursues and leads every day. “As you’re taking care of those patients, you discover that they are the silent heroes of the medical story,” he says. “And the researchers and the physicians are motivated by the patient and their tenacity and their hope for a life. That motivates you to want to work even harder.”
Such hard work has meaning to Roxanne. She smiles, “I’m happy to be alive.”