Dr Emily Granger is one of a handful of female cardiothoracic surgeons here in Australia. She performed the world’s first successful DCD heart transplant back in 2014 and is currently an EMST and CCRISP instructor with the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS).
She features in Episode 5 of National Geographic’s Miracle Hospital and has recently been nominated for Premier’s Woman of the Year award (you can read more about her achievements here).
National Geographic was lucky enough to ask her a few questions in between operations:
First of all, why did you go into Cardiothoracics?
I originally wanted to do orthopaedic surgery, but there were no jobs available in that area at that time. The lady in administration said there was one in cardiothoracic surgery, and that it was kind of like orthopaedics because you had to saw through the patient’s chest bone to get to the heart! I said yes and the following week was the most amazing of my medical career to that point. I assisted in operations from heart transplants, ruptured aortas, coronary bypass, valve operations and paediatric heart surgery. Amazing surgery and amazing results for the patients. From that point, I knew I wanted to do heart surgery. The difference you could make to someone’s life was truly great!
How long did it take you to get to where you are now and what did it involve?
The training program took about 10 years from graduation from medical school, then another year of overseas fellowship.
Has there been a patient that has really challenged you?
The most challenging patients are the LVAD explant heart transplant patients……removing a mechanical replacement heart then stitching in a new heart transplant. These operations can take 6-10 hours. They rely upon a dedicated team, an expert ICU back up, and a tough determined patient! Sometimes the heart needs a bit of extra support after such a long operation, so we actually place a temporary artificial heart or ECMO circuit to support the patient post-surgery. It’ a very complex treatment that 10 years ago was almost un-thought of. Due to advances in technology and experience, we now can do this, saving our patients.
What were the complications or risks associated with the world’s first “DCD” heart transplant?
The world’s first DCD heart transplant was very exciting. We did lots of research beforehand, so we knew it had a good chance of working. However, you don’t know until it’s done! We were lucky to get a strong young heart that restarted and took off like a rocket. The team worked all night and by morning the patient had a fantastic new heart that was almost jumping out of the chest. The risks are always there, and they can be great, but with careful planning, technical precision and teamwork, the patient can be given the best chance!
How important is it to film what you do for shows like Miracle hospital?
The miracle hospital gives people an insight into our amazing transplant and heart surgery program here at St Vincent’s Hospital. We are a world leader in heart and lung transplantation! The operations are sometimes unbelievable in their complexity, but we are always trying to give our patients the best chance at a better life. The Miracle Hospital shows how hard the hospital and transplant unit fights for patient’s lives, to keep someone going despite all odds, and the amazing effort so many people put in to try and get a patient better.
What is the main message you want people to take from your work?
The main message…….Heart and lung transplantation gives people a second chance.
How do patients feel about appearing on Miracle Hospital?
Patients seem to be ok about appearing on the show. They are very brave for often they are fighting to stay alive. To share their journey and open their hearts to the public takes courage and trust. The patients are the ones going through often massive surgery, and at time their survival is not assured. To let someone else view your pain, your story and eventually your recovery is an amazing gift.
International Woman’s Day is coming up, and you’re nominated for the Premier’s Woman of the Year award this year, which is absolutely fantastic. If there was one thing you could say to women working their way to your position, what would it be?
I am lucky. I found something I loved, and now I get to do it every day. Girls, women, anyone, should find their dream and chase it.
What does this award mean to you?
The award is a recognition of the hospital and the transplant unit. I am just the lucky one doing her job!
And lastly, what is your next goal?
Next goal…do more transplants?
Catch Dr Emily Granger tonight in Miracle Hospital on Nat Geo People at 7.30 AEDT
Miracle Hospital is a documentary series with unprecedented access to doctors at St Vincent's Hospitals and their patients undergoing life-saving treatments with new cutting edge technology.