Dr. Barbara Czerska, Medical Director of Heart Transplant Program at Florida Hospital
World-Class Physicians Relocate to Orlando to Initiate Florida Hospital’s Heart Transplant Program
The paths of the two world-class physicians that Florida Hospital recruited to lead the heart transplant program at the Florida Hospital Transplant Center had never crossed. Their backgrounds were decidedly different. But it didn’t take long for cardiologist Barbara Czerska, MD, and transplant surgeon Lawrence McBride, MD, to collaborate seamlessly in their common goal to launch Central Florida’s only heart transplant program.
“We didn’t know each other, but we knew of each other,” said Czerska, medical director of Advanced Heart Failure, Cardiac Transplant and Circulatory Assist Device Programs for the Florida Hospital Transplant Center.
A native of Poland, Czerska arrived in Orlando last November, just before Thanksgiving. Educated at the Academy of Medicine in Warsaw, Poland, she had also completed her residency at the National Institute of Cardiology and University in the capital city of Poland. She completed the first Heart Transplant Fellowship at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, and was recruited from the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Mich.
“Both of my parents died from heart attacks when I was in my early twenties, so I began studying heart transplantation,” she said. “It’s a unique field of medicine, and gratifying to give someone a second chance when you give them a heart.”
McBride, who joined Florida Hospital Transplant Center as surgical director of Advanced Heart Failure, Cardiac Transplant and Circulatory Assist Device Programs on March 1, received his medical education at the St. Louis University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo., where he had also completed his residency and fellowship in cardiothoracic research and cardiothoracic surgery. After directing the heart and lung transplant program in St. Louis from 1984 to 2000, he held a similar post at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, followed by a two-year stint at Newark Beth Israel Hospital in New Jersey before relocating to Orlando.
“When I finished training, heart transplantation was just starting in this country,” he said. “It had previously been done in the early 1960s with little success. Then in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, a few centers were just getting involved in heart transplants. In fact, there were only six in the country doing heart transplants back then. At the same time, the field of mechanical and circuitry support was just starting. Some devices were becoming available—still experimental—and just beginning to be implanted in humans. So it was a terribly fascinating, very stimulating, intellectually challenging and very, very rewarding to pursue. The people I was exposed to had an interest in this field and it was natural for me to follow into it.”
McBride recalled being fascinated by the first-hand account from his mentor, thoracic surgeon Glenn Pennington, MD, about James Hardy, MD, performing the world’s first animal-to-human-heart transplant on Jan. 23, 1964 at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
“He was a medical student when Dr. Hardy did that transplant,” said McBride. “He was in the library when he heard a commotion and saw the baboon being wheeled into the operating room. He tried to get into surgery to see it, but wasn’t allowed because there were too many people. He told me that story in much more detail … it was an extraordinary time. Dr. Hardy was a real pioneer and remarkable individual, and never received the appropriate amount of credit that he should have. There were some social issues at that time, also, that influenced how society reacted to what he did.”
McBride was attracted to the post at Florida Hospital “because it’s an outstanding institution, a major hospital, very supportive, with high standards of care and a long tradition as a leader in cardiac surgery,” he said. “With that, it makes it much easier to build a cardiac transplant program as well as lung transplant program.”
Because Florida Hospital has a very active transplant program, the infrastructure was in place, making it easy to provide the needed modifications to establish the heart and soon-to-be lung transplant program, McBride said.
“With Florida Hospital’s very active organ procurement organization, TransLife, there were multiple donors in the Orlando area, with a population great enough for people to need transplants,” he said. “We’d rather have those organs remain here so those in the community do not have to leave the Orlando area, and the organs are not shipped to other areas of the state.”
Czerska was impressed with Florida Hospital’s long history of transplantation, positive patient experiences, collaborations between different specialties, and stellar cardiovascular service.
“The community is growing and definitely needs the services,” she said. “This to me looked like a perfect program to be really successful. All the necessary components were in place.”
For first few months, Czerska worked with the transplant center’s nurses and support staff, educating them on procedures that would be different with the heart transplant program, while also assembling teams—surgical/medical team, in-patient and outpatient, and a wide range of multidisciplinary supporting services such as cardiac rehabilitation, nutrition and social work.
“This type of work takes a team effort,” said Czerska. “My role in this program is to evaluate and prepare patients that can benefit the best from receiving an organ. Our heart transplant team will deliver the best care not only to patients waiting for heart transplants, but also after their transplantation.”