Teaming to save a life: Selfridge and McLaren cardiologists work together to transport heart patient

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In 1986, no medical facility in Michigan had the capabilities to perform an organ transplant, let alone an intricately complicated heart transplant.

This posed a great problem for Dr. John Kazmierski, a cardiologist with McLaren Macomb (then Mount Clemens General Hospital) and his partner, Dr. Anton Westveld.

Dr. John Kazmierski The pair had a college-age female patient in need of a life-saving heart transplant, but without a facility in which to perform the procedure there was little they could do in-state.

So they had to look out of state.

Stanford University Medical Center in California had the capabilities and personnel to perform a transplant. Now the cardiologists just had to find a way to get their patient there.

"In her current state, she was in no shape to fly commercial and the only other conceivable way to transport her across the country would be an ambulance ride," Dr. Kazmierski said. "But we were definitely open to all possibilities."

Dr. Westveld had an idea. A veteran of the Air Force, he reached out to some contacts in the military to see what could be done about getting this patient to the West Coast in a timely manner.

While the base closest to the hospital, Selfridge Air National Guard Base, didn't have a plane, an Air National Guard Base in Oklahoma was able to send a plane north to Selfridge.

"The patient needs to travel under supervision and with medical equipment, so we worked with Selfridge maintenance and we were able to turn that cargo plane into a flying ICU," Dr. Kazmierski said. "And on a cold Friday night in January, we flew to Stanford."

With everyone safely on-board, Dr. Westveld and Dr. Kazmierski escorted the patient to Moffett Federal Airfield in California-flying at no more than 10,000 feet in order to maintain air pressure-then to Stanford, where she received her new heart.

"This is a great example to show how we can all work together," Dr. Kazmierski said. "And without the help of the team at Selfridge to make the plane suitable for the patient, no way we could have been nearly as successful."