“Nursing His Soul”: A Transplant Nurse’s Journey

David and Carol Waits return to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center for the anniversary of the heart transplant that saved his life.


By Amanda Nageleisen

David Waits had been a patient in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit (CVICU) at University of Cincinnati Medical Center for 120 long days when Katie Greathouse received the phone call that would change his life.

The call began like any other: the OR was on the other line, letting Greathouse know that her patient was scheduled for a procedure.

“I asked what kind of procedure, because he was having many at that time. They said, ‘heart transplant.’ I said, ‘What?! You’re going to have to repeat that,’” Greathouse said. “I start¬ed yelling, and everybody stopped what they were doing.

“And when they went into Dave’s room to tell him, there was a crowd of 10 of us outside his door, just crying,” she said. “It was one of the more significant things that has happened to us. It was the result of a lot of work, by a lot of people coming together.”

On Feb. 2, 2016, Waits received a heart transplant, giving him a second chance at life and marking the official return of the hospital’s heart transplant program after an eight-year hiatus.

It was a positive outcome, but the road to that day wasn’t easy – not for Waits, nor for his team of caregivers.

“Some of the most challenging nursing came in the first 120 days, not in the recovery period,” Greathouse said. “As a nurse, usually you’re trying to fix problems as quickly as you can and get them home fast. But with Dave, all we could do is wait.”

For Waits, 51, who had made a living working with his hands in the construction industry, it was agonizing.

“During that time, it was about nursing his soul, too,” Greathouse said. “I was on night shift at the time, and some¬times, we’d just sit — that was all he needed, somebody to just sit with him in the quiet.”

At other times, the CVICU nurses kept their patient’s hands and mind busy with puzzles, completing so many that they lost count.

That number is now lost to history: at a celebratory cookout and bonfire last fall, the Waits family and his care team gladly threw the puzzles into the fire to mark the end of his transplant journey.

Greathouse said being part of Waits’ journey and playing a role in the return of the heart transplant program was one of the most rewarding experiences of her career.

“The whole thing was magical: you’re taking an organ out of someone else’s body and giving life to somebody who was told, ‘This is it,’” she said. “I’m proud to be part of the rejuve¬nation of the transplant program. We need this in the region; people need us.”

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