Life Looks Rosy 30 Years After Heart Transplant at Mount Sinai

When Lore Schoenfeld, now 84, celebrated the 30th anniversary of her heart transplant, her husband, Karlheinz whom she calls Karl, showered her with red roses. Sixty-six of the brilliant blooms, to be precise. “Thirty of the roses were from Karl and three dozen from our children,” explains Lore.

With so many flowers she wanted to share the joy. The next day, at her local support group picnic with Mended Hearts, Lore handed a rose to every person who attended.

The fact that Lore has survived for more than 30 years after her heart transplant is remarkable. The median life expectancy after a heart transplant in 1991, when Lore received hers, was 8.6 years, says her doctor, Maya Barghash, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine (Cardiology) at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “In that cohort of people, fewer than 25 percent are alive at 20 years.”

Lore works hard to keep healthy. Until COVID-19 hit, she went several times a week to the nearby hospital gym to use the treadmill, stationary bike, and other equipment. “I became friends with the other patients there,” she says.

And she is careful about her nutrition. “I don’t cook with salt anymore,” she explains. “I cook without salt, then I take my portion out of the pot, and then I finish cooking for the rest of the family, using a little salt,” she says. But not too much. “If they want more, they can put it on themselves,” she explains, adding that they usually don’t add much seasoning. At first, Lore missed the salty flavor. “Now I’m used to it,” she explains.

Dr. Barghash points to these efforts to explain Lore’s longevity. “Lore is probably one of my best patients. She’s just so incredibly on top of her health. I've never seen anybody who keeps such meticulous records every single day. She writes down her blood pressure, her heart rate, her weight, and she takes all of her medications.”

Lore also notes any adjustments she makes; if her weight is a little higher, she might adjust her pills, and she records all of that, Dr. Barghash explains, adding, “She requests that all blood-work results are communicated with her so she can keep a record of them.” Lore also communicates regularly with her doctors, letting them know if anything feels the slightest bit off. “This way, we can address issues as they come up, which is essential after receiving a heart transplant,” says Dr. Barghash. “Diligence, adherence with medications and follow-up care, and open communication between the patient and their medical team are the keys to success after heart transplantation.”

For her part, Lore credits her Mount Sinai team. “My doctors and nurses are all wonderful,” she explains. “And I got a young heart, which really helps.” Studies show that receiving a heart transplant from donors under age 40 are associated with better outcomes.

Before the transplant, Lore was quite ill: “My husband had to push me up the stairs; I could barely walk.” But once she recuperated, Lore was back to her old self. “I was running up and down the stairs, not just walking.”

She got back to some of her favorite activities, singing German folk songs and cooking for her husband and loved ones. “Cooking makes me happy,” she says. Karl appreciates it too. “What makes her happy makes me happy,” he explains.

That joy is apparent to Dr. Barghash. “Lore and her husband are just so in love with each other and so dedicated to each other.”

The past 30 years have been full of joy. Lore has spent plenty of time with her three daughters and son, who visit regularly from their homes in New Jersey, Brooklyn, and the West Coast. When the family gets together—and sometimes when it is just the two of them—Lore sings, accompanied by Karl on the accordion. The couple has taken several trips to Germany and even a cruise through Europe. Lore is also very involved with the local German club. “I used to help make 700 pounds of potatoes every year for Oktoberfest,” she says. Recently, she has stepped back and is just helping to peel the potatoes—almost a third of a ton of them.

Lore and Karl have slowed down a bit over the years, but are looking forward to many more healthy years of singing and sharing salt-free food with friends and family.