PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Experts at Penn Medicine held a special conference today for female heart transplant patients and their caregivers, to discuss some of the unique issues that women face when it comes to the heart disease — which government health officials say is the leading cause of death in the US.

Heart transplants take a tremendous toll on the body, but especially on a woman’s body.  The medications can cause weight gain, excessive hair growth, and reproductive issues; they can also have an impact on menopause and can cause osteoperosis in some cases.

Dr. Joyce Wald (standing in top photo) specializes in heart failure and transplantation at Penn Medicine, and says the issues are compounded further in younger women.

“The medications can have side effects that can alter their appearance,” she says.  “So we really, as their medical caregivers, try and lower their medicines as much as possible so they don’t look different from their peers.  And of course young women want to go throught pregnancy, and that is possible post-transplant.”

Wald says another problem is that women, especially young women, are misdiagnosed when it comes to heart disease because they don’t always present the same symptoms as men.

“Instead of being profoundly short of breath, they just may be bloated or retain water in their belly,” she says.

She says women should be extra vigilant and get checkups as soon as possible so they can increase their survival chances if they do need a heart transplant.

Janet Dennis (below) received a heart transplant six years ago.

“After the transplant, you have to re-create yourself,” she tells KYW Newsradio.  “You want to feel normal like everyone else, then you realize you’re not normal.  Everyone’s not taking all the meds you are taking, eveyone doesn’t have the same daily routine you have.  But, I still have this I-can-do-it attitude.  I tell myself I can do this, I can do that.”

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2011 10 21 11 38 10 dennis Penn Medicine Hosts Conference Highlighting Female Heart Recipients

(Heart transplant recipient Janet Dennis. Credit: Cherri Gregg)


Dennis says her goal has been to not just survive with her new heart, but to thrive.  She is an avid dragon-boater and has won numerous awards and medals as part of the Tranplant Games, an athletic competition for transplant survivors.

“I am having the time of my life,” she says, “just because someone said ‘yes’ to (organ) donation. And to say thank you, I give all of my medals to my donor family.”

Reported by Cherri Gregg, KYW Newsradio 1060

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