Blood Tests for Heart Transplant Patients

| January 22, 2013 | 3 Comments

My favorite blood draw story has nothing to do with heart transplantation. When we were preparing to get married, Judy and I needed blood draws. We scheduled a visit to my family practitioner, Dr. Richard Beebe, a venerable physician at Albany Medical Center.

Dr. Beebe greeted congratulated us enthusiastically. He escorted us to his examination room and explained the procedure. He asked Judy how she was about blood draws ad she said “fine.” Then, he looked at me and said, “Good. That means Hiland can lie down on that examination table.” He even fluffed up the pillow. What a guy!  

Another memorable blood draw took place at Columbia Presbyterian. It was a busy day. I was scheduled for a left heart cath and the place was jumping. I think they did more than sixty that day.

Today, there are 3,376 persons awaiting heart transplantation.  In 2012, only 1,968 persons received a new heart.  This is 354 fewer heart transplants than in 2011.

We waited quite a while to get into the prep room. When we did, a very unhappy nurse came by to give me a blood draw. She was sighing deeply. I asked if she was okay. She responded, “Not really. I hate blood draws. I’m not good at it. They know that.”

She was right! She was pitiful at it. She huffed and puffed and fumbled the needles. She wore no gloves. She managed to tie the plastic around my upper arm but could not find a sweet spot. I flexed a little and a nice vein stood right up.

She sighed some more. Then, she put the needle in ever so slightly. She stopped. She seemed ready to faint. I was sitting there with this needle dangling out that was not in the vein. I asked her if I could help.

Fortunately, that was the only one of those that happened. I have had a few misfires. After my open heart surgery 12 years ago, one nurse, also with no gloves, got frustrated and ended up drawing blood from my abdomen. That was a little weird.

Anyway, as a heart transplant enrollee, you are going to have hundreds of blood draws before and after your transplant. It may not seem like it, but they all serve a purpose. It turns out that these draws are like a combination blueprint and scorecard for cardiologists. They help identify how your body is responding to your condition.

The most common blood test is the Complete Blood Count (CBC). This test is a standard of the profession. You will have hundreds of CBC draws. The CBC indicates your status in relation to blood cancers, clotting, anemia, infections and immune system disorders. The results of the CBC can lead to proscription medications or can be used to track progress of the listed conditions.

The CBC indicates:

  • Red blood cell count
  • White blood cell count
  • Platelets
  • Hemoglobin
  • Hematocrit
  • Mean corpuscular volume
  • An other goodies

You may also have a BMP or Basic Metabolic Panel. This test is usually performed on the plasma. The physicians measure the chemicals in your blood.

The BMP indicates:

  • Blood glucose
  • Calcium
  • Electrolytes
  • Kidney function

Other draws can be blood enzyme tests, but one test in particular an reveal whether or not you are at risk for coronary heart disease (CHD). This test is called the lipoprotein panel.

The lipoprotein panel indicates:

  • Total cholesterol
  • LDL or bad cholesterol level
  • HDL or good cholesterol level
  • Triglyceride level

Abnormal levels of LDL or HDL and/or elevated levels of triglyceride are strong signs of risk of CHD. Bummer! If you are waiting for a transplant, you are already there, but the cardiologist will continue to use this draw to monitor your cholesterol.

Another relevant test is a test used for blood clotting, a serious dilemma. You may be using Coumadin or Warfarin now. These are the drugs you love to hate. The reason you are using this is because a blood clotting test, which measures the protein in your blood, indicated that you are prone to clotting. Bad news!

Another important test is the CRP, or C-reactive protein test. This test indicates the presence of inflammation somewhere in the body. Inflammation is a main cause of atherosclerosis, the increase of fatty deposits in the arteries.

As a standalone test, the CRP test does not indicate where the inflammation is, but when compiled with data from other blood draws paints a good picture of the source of the inflammation.

In terms of heart disease, the American Heart Association says that CRP levels of less than 1.0 mgs represents a low level risk of heart disease. A level of 1.0 – 3.0 indicates an average level of risk. Above 3.0 suggests a high risk of heart disease.

Cholesterol statin medications are the common prescription for person are above average CRP levels. There are many types of blood draws. The American Heart Association and the Mayo Clinic have excellent descriptions of all the blood tests used for all diseases.

Blood draws serve a definite purpose. They are an essential tool used by cardiologists and other caregivers. If you think you are squeamish about needles, don’t worry. They become matter-of-fact very quickly.



3 Comments on "Blood Tests for Heart Transplant Patients"

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  1. bella pipas says:

    Good information. I never knew what some of these blood draws meant, and now I do. Keep up the good blogs. Bp

  2. Stephen Tucciarone says:

    I often wonder why hospitals do not insert a PICC line and draw blood from there. The constant recurring draw every morning is commonplace and better alternatives should be investigated.

  3. Hiland Doolittle says:

    Thanks Bella! Are you in the sun?

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