February is American Heart Month, and here is a story that is close to ours about a very special patient who is paying his good fortune forward.

Dr. Jeff Zapalac (a retired orthodontist) started experiencing very mild symptoms that seemed to be affecting his heart, including difficulty breathing and exercising. While he initially attributed that to his older age, he also had a gut feeling that something else might be wrong.

His cardiologist diagnosed him with a condition called amyloidosis, or “stiff heart syndrome.” It is a potentially deadly form of heart disease that occurs when amyloid (or abnormal) proteins develop in the heart and impact the way electrical signals move through the heart muscle. Common symptoms of it can be difficult to detect (and are also signs of so many other conditions), like weakness, fatigue, and shortness of breath.

The condition caused his heart to deteriorate and weaken to the point that he needed a heart transplant. He was referred to transplant surgeon, Dr. William Kessler.

Dr. Zapalac eventually received his heart transplant in 2019 and has fully recovered and not looked back since. He’s even been able to go hiking with his family — something he thought would be insurmountable.

What’s interesting about Dr. Zapalac is that he has always led a very healthy life — healthy diet, regular exercise, no smoking — and he’s even a former member of the UT football team who won two national championships!

He urges anyone who ever feels that something is not quite right with their body to get it checked out by a doctor. It is never a waste of time, and it could just save your life!

With his new lease on life, Dr. Zapalac is passionate about paying it forward by participating in two different clinical trials currently looking at amyloidosis. Researchers are working on ways to detect the disease earlier in those who may be predisposed to this condition. 

CTVS is a pioneer in heart transplant surgery in Central Texas, having performed the first one in the region in 1986. For questions about your heart health, please visit us at ctvstexas.com or call (512) 459-8753 to schedule an appointment with one of our cardiac, thoracic, or vascular  specialists.

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