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Fall 2007

A Case of Heart Failure

Vikram Viswanathan had been in the United States for only six months when he learned his life was in peril.

While finishing his second quarter in a master's program in computer science at the University of California, Riverside, Viswanathan, a native of India, contracted what he thought was just a cold and respiratory infection. He was only 22 at the time, and as he sat alone in the waiting room of the Campus Health Center, he had no notion of what lay ahead.

As the infection progressed, he found it increasingly difficult to breathe and developed an extremely high fever. While under the care of health center practitioners, his condition deteriorated so quickly that doctors sent him by ambulance to Riverside Community Hospital. A week later, Viswanathan was transferred to the coronary care unit at Loma Linda University Medical Center, where doctors treated him for a rare myocarditis.

By the following year, damage to his heart muscle prompted a referral to Kanu Chatterjee, M.B., a cardiologist in the UCSF Heart and Vascular Center. Chatterjee immediately admitted him to UCSF Medical Center.

Viswanathan viewed this admission as a critical turning point for him and his family. "Before I saw Dr. Chatterjee, I didn't have hope. Dr. Chatterjee told me I was going to be OK," said Viswanathan.

Chatterjee and Teresa De Marco, M.D., a UCSF heart failure/heart transplant cardiologist, aggressively treated Viswanathan with intravenous medication to improve the pumping action of his heart and drain the fluid that had accumulated. With careful monitoring of his medication, his condition gradually improved for about two years, according to De Marco.

Ultimately, Viswanathan's condition began to worsen. By this time, he had severe symptoms of heart failure, including breathlessness, extreme fatigue, fluid accumulation and a swollen liver. Despite frequent outpatient visits and medication adjustments, Viswanathan's health continued to deteriorate. UCSF Medical Center physicians attempted to improve his condition with biventricular pacing, but Viswanathan required hospitalization once again, and was placed on the waiting list for a heart transplant.

Nine days later, a heart became available. One day after that, UCSF transplant surgeon Charles Hoopes, M.D.;, transplanted a donor heart into the now 27-year-old.

Viswanathan's recovery was speedy. With the help of the intensive care nurses and clinical nurse specialist Jill Obata, he was able to return home at the end of July, and was back to work as a software engineer at a Palo Alto company by late September.

"I have a lot of energy now, and I almost feel completely back to normal," said Viswanathan. "I am thankful for the ability to enjoy every second of my life. And I realize that none of this would have been possible without the doctors and nurses at UCSF Medical Center. They are unbelievable. I've been to so many different hospitals, and I haven't seen the kind of dedication UCSF Medical Center people have."

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