Patient Stories

Eliana's Story

When Eliana arrived, she could not walk or even stand. As the team at NewYork-Presbyterian waited for her new heart to arrive, they worked to nourish her body as much as possible. About a week after getting on the transplant list, Dr. Uriel got the good news that they had secured a heart.

Eliana Woldan’s ability to embrace ‘one day at a time’ resonates in the year that is 2020. After getting the flu, 31-year-old Eliana became so sick that she had to undergo a heart transplant during the height of New York City’s COVID-19 pandemic surge.

“It was definitely a surreal process. I had to take it one day at a time to not overwhelm myself with everything,” says Eliana.

Thanks to the stellar medical team led by Nir Uriel, MD, MSc, Director of Advanced Heart Failure and Cardiac Transplantation at NewYork-Presbyterian, Eliana sailed through with flying colors.

It all started in 2017 when Eliana was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy—a disease of the heart muscle that makes it difficult for the heart to pump blood effectively. Eliana’s local cardiologist implanted a defibrillator and along with medication, her condition seemed to be managed very well. That is, until she got sick with the flu in January 2020.

Established over forty years ago, our Heart Transplantation Program is the largest and most experienced program in the country. Appointments can be scheduled by calling 929-265-6440.

"After I got the flu, I just wasn’t breathing at home properly and then the flu launched into pneumonia. I went to a nearby hospital, which started a rollercoaster of events.”

Eliana spent one week at a small local hospital and then one month at a larger hospital in the area. As her condition continued to worsen, Eliana was implanted with an Impella percutaneous ventricular assist device—a temporary support to help the heart pump blood and is often used as a bridge to a long-term solution.

When Dr. Uriel heard about Eliana—a young patient in New Jersey who had contracted the flu, pneumonia, and was in severe heart failure—he called the physician at her hospital to ask how NewYork-Presbyterian could help. Eliana was immediately put on the national waitlist for a heart transplant and transferred to NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center.

When Eliana arrived, she could not walk or even stand. As the team at NewYork-Presbyterian waited for her new heart to arrive, they worked to nourish her body as much as possible. About a week after getting on the transplant list, Dr. Uriel got the good news that they had secured a heart.

The US News & World Report has ranked our heart program as the top program in New York & the Northeast. Appointments can be scheduled by calling 844-613-8174.

“Dr. Uriel said I had a high chance of finding heart quickly because I was petite (sometimes a pediatric heart can be used for transplantation), had A+ blood type, and was healthy overall.”

Eliana’s life-saving heart transplant surgery took place on March 21, 2020, and she went home just nine days later. Because it was the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Uriel’s team took every precaution to get her home as quickly as possible.

“It was hard during COVID because the hospital stopped having visitors two weeks before my surgery.” Luckily Eliana had a lot of friends and family supporting her throughout the process including her husband, parents, and coworkers. While in the hospital Eliana’s office mates from the medical office she worked at in New Jersey sent her a box full of get-well goodies including the bunny ears she is seen happily wearing in the post-transplant photo.

“Normally I would have stayed in the hospital longer, gone to rehab and physical therapy, but my doctors wanted me isolated at home which was a great idea. I was doing great anyway.”

Her follow-up care consisted of a lot of virtual visits while she recovered at home. “I had a visiting nurse service and telehealth visits with Dr. Uriel once per week. I would always get phone calls from the nurse practitioners.”

Eliana still speaks fondly of all the staff that succeeded in transplanting her heart and getting her out of the hospital in nine days, including Dr. Uriel, Koji Takeda, MD, PhD, various fellows, and countless nurses. “Dr. Uriel’s team is fantastic. There were so many doctors in the team. They used to come in my room two to three times per day. When COVID-19 protocols were stricter, they still came in but only for a minute or two.”

None of 2020 is what Eliana expected, but she continues to take life as it comes. “I’m doing well, still taking it one day at a time. I am working and keeping busy.”

Eliana enjoys hanging out with her husband at their home in New Jersey watching movies, reading, and sometimes playing video games. She sees her parents who live 10 minutes away. She is also back to work (remotely) doing insurance credentialing at the medical office where she previously worked in New Jersey. “I’ve always wanted to help people. I am glad I am able to help people in the medical office setting.” There is no doubt that Eliana’s inspiring story is helping others more than she knows.

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