Written by Michelle Abt
Jessie Savolt of Torrance was only 36 when she developed acute mitral valve
regurgitation, a condition that occurs when the mitral valve doesn’t
close properly and allows blood to leak backward into the heart. Savolt
had become extremely sick very quickly, with troubling symptoms that included
severe fatigue and shortness of breath. After being diagnosed, she underwent
two consecutive mitral valve replacements—one mechanical and one tissue.
But even after the valve replacements, Savolt continued to suffer from
heart disease complications. She lived with ever-worsening heart failure
for nearly 20 more years before finally, at age 55, receiving the heart
transplant that saved her life—a transplant was facilitated through
a unique partnership between Torrance Memorial Medical Center and Cedars-Sinai.
Savolt describes her journey through the various stages of heart failure
as exhausting. Happily married, a mother and a grandmother, she enjoyed
her family. However her illness meant Savolt couldn’t fully participate
in many important family milestones. She also had to give up her job as
a computer analyst at Northrop Grumman. “I missed an awful lot,” she says.
Throughout most of her illness, Savolt was under the care of the team at
the Torrance Memorial heart failure program. The group included cardiologists
Benjamin Rosin, MD, Erol Kosar, MD and Mark Lurie, MD, as well as nurse
practitioner and program coordinator Roxanna Balter. “That team
was amazing. They were incredibly thorough and they really cared about
what happened to me; they became like family,” says Savolt. And
that feeling is mutual. Balter remembers her patient well. “Savolt
was always upbeat and refused to let her illness get her down. She was
pretty remarkable,” Balter recalls.
Still as time went on, it became increasingly clear that Savolt’s
best option was to get a heart transplant. She was added to the heart
transplant list at a local medical center, but after a two-year wait,
her overall health was deteriorating and her situation was becoming more
complicated. Given these issues, she needed to go to a transplant center
that could handle a very complex case. That’s when Dr. Lurie decided
to send Savolt to the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai—a decision
that saved her life.
A top-notch academic medical center with the largest heart transplant program
in the United States, Cedars-Sinai was uniquely prepared to care for Savolt.
And the close working relationship between the Torrance Memorial and Cedars-Sinai
specialists facilitated the transfer of her care to the Smidt Heart Institute
transplant program. The transition was seamless and quick, and the Torrance
team was in touch the whole time.
Savolt was put on the transplant list at the Smidt Heart Institute on August
19, 2015 and received her call just three weeks later on September 5.
Her reaction was total shock. “I was running around the house not
knowing what to do first. After waiting for so long, I couldn’t
believe this was actually happening,” she says.
The surgery went extremely well—but her story doesn’t stop
there. She went in to cardiac arrest twice while at Cedars-Sinai, and
the second time, the surgeons performed an open-heart procedure right
in her room to stabilize her before they brought her to the operating
room. “Their goal was to save the heart, and they absolutely did.
That heart is doing just great, thank you very much,” says the grateful patient.
Savolt can’t say enough about the Smidt Heart Institute team. They
saved her life—several times—and without their expertise and
experience she would not have made it through the transplant and her subsequent
complications. She is also extremely thankful to Dr. Lurie and his team
at Torrance Memorial. Without them she probably would not have gone to
the Smidt Heart Institute for her transplant care.
In 2016, Savolt and her husband renewed their wedding vows in Hawaii. She
is now a grandmother for the second time. She walks her three dogs, spends
time with her family and just completed a Super Bowl 5K. Savolt also went
back to Smidt last week for her six-month checkup. Her heart is perfect
and she was able to see all of her doctors again. “They always stop
by to say hello. There is a lot of hugging. I feel really, really lucky,” she says.