PORTLAND, Conn. (WTNH) -- The first HIV heart transplant in New England tells his story on national television. John Rankl's story underscores a deeper issue of which only four hospitals in the country are addressing: a short list that includes Hartford Hospital.
Real life dramas at New York Presbyterian unfold in the weekly ABC show NY Med .
This week the focus includes John Rankl from Portland, Connecticut.
Rankl said in May of 2011, "I got a call from New York Presbyterian saying that I had a heart available."
The ventricular assist device, designed to keep him alive, was no longer working efficiently.
Rankl needed a new heart, but was HIV positive.
It is a barrier at other facilities, though not at New York Presbyterian.
Rankl only has praises saying, "they allowed me to get to where I was and they were only one of a handful of hospitals in the country that would allow or even consider an HIV transplant."
A heart was found, but the transplant failed.
"I knew something was wrong because I reached down and felt my L-VAD and my heart pump," he said.
Post surgery, he wanted to be closer to home and learned that Hartford Hospital, led by Dr. Detlef Wencker, had changed its protocol to include HIV patients on the same list with other transplant patients.
Dr. Wencker is the Heart Failure and Transplant Center Director.
"The most common cause of failure- dying in these stable HIV patients is heart failure," Wencker said, "a cardiovascular disease stage and hence it makes very much sense to offer these HIV patients a new heart."
The novel approach came about after meeting Rankl during emergency visits at Hartford Hospital.
"We considered it in the past as a rapidly failing disease and has become today a shift to a more chronic ailment similar to high blood pressure," Wencker said.
More than a year later after getting the heart of a 23-year-old donor at Hartford Hospital, Rankl lives an active lifestyle and aims to put the issue on the national stage.
He says, "the vast, vast majority of major medical facilities in the country still exclude transplantation based on HIV status. It does not need to be that way."
Like other transplant cases, those involving an HIV patient will be reviewed at Hartford Hospital on a case-by-case basis.
To find out why the initial transplant failed, watch New York Med on News 8, Tuesday night at 10 p.m.
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In Connecticut, it's as easy as indicating it on your driver's license and through the social media site, Facebook .
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