Local doctors think outside of the box to save a man's life

Stephanie Graham, Courtny Gerrish

Local doctors think outside of the box to save a man's life

CREATED Sep. 9, 2013 - UPDATED: Sep. 9, 2013

BURLINGTON - Stephen and Jennie Werth love hanging out together in their Burlington home.

"We do a lot of activities together.  We're pretty well-rounded," Jennie says.

Those activities are pretty limited lately, after Stephen underwent a heart transplant a year ago.  He says, "Just have faith in yourself and God.  Just keep strong."

Words the 33-year-old has learned to live by.  You see, Stephen has been keeping strong since childhood, when he was diagnosed with bone cancer.  He had to have a partial leg amputation.  Stephen learned to walk again, but then, another blow at the age of 16:  Doctors diagnosed him with congestive heart failure.  It's a side effect of his chemo treatments.

Stephen's thought when he was diagnosed?  "Just... here we go again," he says.

Despite all of the health complications, Stephen still found the love of his life - Jennie.

"I guess our sense of humors are pretty connected, and just easy-going people.  We just mesh well," Jennie says matter-of-factly.

They needed that sense of humor last year, when the bombshell broke.  Doctors said Stephen needed a new heart.

Dr. Claudius Mahr is a Heart Failure Specialist at Froedtert & The Medical College.  He explains, "He (Stephen) is a smaller individual, and as his heart failure progressed he got sicker to the point where medications were no longer working."
Because of Stephen's size, doctors at Froedtert were unable to use the typical device implanted in adult patients before heart surgery.  So they called their colleagues at Children's Hospital.

"We decided to essentially collaborate on this case and try to think outside the box," Dr. Mahr recalls.

Doctors at Children's implanted Stephen with a Berlin Heart--a device typically used in children before heart transplants. It is a procedure that's been done on adults only a few times across the world. Jennie admits she was a little nervous. "But it's the choice of keeping my husband, or losing my husband, and I personally would rather keep my husband!"

The Berlin Heart surgery was a success.

"Then we were able to list him and transplant him and get him a heart that would work for him," Dr. Mahr says.

Stephen now has his new heart, and is slowly on the road to recovery.  "I wanna get back to work.  Exercising a lot more, that's where I have fun."

Stephen's dream of good health is getting closer to a reality, thanks to some local doctors who dared to take a chance.