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Detroit area Mom Celebrates Mothers Day with Heart Transplant

May 07, 2020

DETROIT – Henry Ford Health System is celebrating Mother’s Day with a special patient: Donna Arm, the first person to receive a transplant after COVID-19.

The 68-year-old Romulus mother of three, grandmother of eight and great-grandmother of four received a heart on Saturday, April 25. She is expected to go home from the hospital Mother’s Day weekend.

“I just want everyone to know how important organ donation is,” Mrs. Arm said from her hospital room at Henry Ford Hospital, her voice quivering with emotion as she thought about the donor. “I am grateful for their gift and for the extra time with my family, which I love so dearly.”

Donna’s transplant signals a change in hospital operations since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Dr. Adnan Munkarah, Executive Vice President and Chief Clinical Officer. Emergency procedures and surgeries continued after the first positive COVID-19 patient arrived at Henry Ford Health System March 12. And, theoretically, transplants were available, but none came to fruition with hospital bed space limited due to the virus.

Now, surgical and procedural operations are gearing up again, after the number of COVID-19 positive patients being admitted dropped drastically and entire sections of the hospital are dedicated to non-COVID patients.

The hospital system is now systematically and safely rescheduling surgeries and procedures for those with emergent medical issues.

“We are glad to be resuming what we do best: help those who need us return to health,” said Dr. Munkarah.

Henry Ford Transplant Institute Director Dr. Marwan Abouljoud, and internationally renowned liver transplant surgeon, said two liver transplants and a kidney transplant took place at Henry Ford Hospital after Donna’s transplant. All patients are recovering perfectly, he said.

Typically, surgeons at Henry Ford Hospital perform about 300 solid organ transplants per year. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the delay of about 20% of those surgeries, Dr. Abouljoud said. Henry Ford Transplant Institute staff intensified remote care and monitoring of all Henry Ford patients who were on the waiting list prior to COVID-19. Two were sent for transplants at other out-of-state hospitals not hit as hard with COVID-19, and the rest remain on the waiting list, he said.

“Now, with entire wings dedicated to the care of non-COVID-19 patients, we are resuming our dedication to the Gift of Life,” Dr. Abouljoud said. “Our coordinators, nurses and doctors have worked tirelessly to keep our patients healthy and updated, and we are grateful to provide safe, life-affirming care.”

Cardio-thoracic surgeon Dr. Hassan Nemeh, who performed the 6 ½-hour surgery, said he felt privileged to help Donna with her transplant.

“It’s always feels like a miracle to help provide the gift of life through a heart transplant,” said Dr. Nemeh, “It is so good to be back in my comfort zone and be able to make a difference by turning the tragic event of death into a glorious triumph by restoring a suffering soul to normalcy.”

Donna, who was suffering from congestive heart failure, said she originally turned down the opportunity for a heart pump and, eventually, a heart transplant to keep her alive.

But her family – husband, Billy, 72; son Brian Arm, 49, of the Cleveland area, and daughters Toni Adams, 48, of Garden City, and Sheila Woods, 44, of Wayne, reminded her of the campouts, family gatherings and birthdays she would miss. She changed her mind and was listed on April 23. At 11:49 p.m. April 24, Henry Ford Hospital transplant coordinators called to say they had a heart.

“It was just a peace that said it would be alright, and it is,” said Donna. “I am so grateful for the extra time with my family.”

Daughter Sheila Woods said her family never expected it to happen that quickly.

“As soon as I picked up the phone, I was terrified,” Sheila said. “I said, Oh my god mom, what is wrong? She said, ‘I got a heart! I got a heart!’ I said, ‘No way, already?’ It was awesome.”

Daughter Toni Adams said it has been hard watching Donna, who is “always doing for everyone else,” become so sick. Then COVID-19 added another worry.

“When we found out she was going to be on a floor with no COVID patients, that’s when we relaxed,” Toni said. “The hardest part has been us not being there with her, that she went through this all by herself. But the nurses and doctors there have been wonderful. Even when she forgot her Facebook password, they helped her reset it. They’re treating her like family.”

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Media contact: Tammy Battaglia / Tbattag1@hfhs.org / 248-881-0809