For Thanksgiving dinner 2018, Christian Bernadotte sat in the same exact seat as Thanksgiving dinner 2017, at the home of his friend, Gosta Pettersson, M.D., Ph.D.
Only this year, he didn’t slump over, unconscious, in the lap of Tina, the wife of another fellow Swede, Per Wierup, M.D., Ph.D. The implanted cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) in his chest had to shock his weakening heart back to life.
“He was embarrassed,” recalled Dr. Wierup, with a smile. “But I told him not to worry. Many men have fallen for my wife.” Christian’s doctor friends – both cardiac surgeons at Cleveland Clinic – insisted he be whisked by ambulance to the hospital. He spent a few days under observation before returning to his Shaker Heights home.
At this year’s Thanksgiving celebration, having fully recovered from a heart transplant last February, Christian was the picture of health and stayed upright throughout the festive meal.
“Let’s face it, Christian has really good luck,” said David Taylor, M.D., his cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic. “You can’t be any luckier than having two cardiac surgeons sitting next to you when you have cardiac arrest.”
Christian, age 69, is a retired business executive. He’s also the son of a Swedish prince who renounced his royal status to marry the woman he loved. Christian wholeheartedly agreed with Dr. Taylor. “Being friends with leading cardiac surgeons helps a lot,” he joked. “But I think having a positive outlook on life has a lot to do with it, too.”
Good fortune followed him for months before the heart transplant. Christian suffered two bouts of arrhythmia while vacationing in Switzerland and his native Sweden, the summer prior to the Thanksgiving 2017 episode. Each time, he meet with cardiologists, who adjusted his medication but urged him to return home to Cleveland for more comprehensive treatment.
Christian’s heart woes began in 1999, when he suffered a sudden and severe heart attack that required triple bypass surgery. He didn’t let it affect his life. He traveled extensively for his work, and has been an active skier, sailor and golfer.
“I was asymptomatic for almost 20 years. I knew how to pace myself, and when it felt like my heart was doing too much, I would stop and rest,” he explained.
Nevertheless, over time, his heart condition worsened. In 2016, he began to feel weaker and more tired. Tests revealed the pumping ability of his heart was severely below normal. “I became a ticking time bomb,” Christian noted.
Following the Thanksgiving 2017 event, he was placed on the United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS) list for a heart transplant. He was categorized as Status 2, a lower priority based on his condition.
That all changed – and he was moved to the highest priority, Status 1A – after the “ticking time bomb” nearly exploded on February 4, 2018. That Sunday morning, Christian was in the kitchen reading a newspaper and began feeling quite ill.
His wife, Marianne, immediately called Dr. Pettersson, who lives just a four-minute drive from the Bernadottes’ residence. Uncharacteristically, he happened to be at home that Sunday morning.
“I dropped everything and ran out to the car,” Dr. Pettersson recalled. “By the time I got there, he was lying on the floor in the kitchen, not breathing. He was, in essence, dead.”
For just the second time outside of a hospital, Dr. Pettersson began cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). After a number of chest compressions, and two mouth-to-mouth breaths, Christian revived, opened his eyes and said, “Good morning, Gosta.”
Rushed once again to the hospital, Christian was admitted. Due to the nature of his condition, he was moved to heart transplant Status 1A and awaited a donor heart. A week later, it arrived. The transplant surgery was performed without complications, and Christian underwent rigorous rehabilitation.
In less than two months, he was back on the golf course, hitting his drives 20 yards farther and feeling, as he described it, “15 years younger.”
Grateful for the care he received both in and outside the hospital, Christian is enjoying his new lease on life – especially, the ability to enjoy family and friends at gatherings like Thanksgiving, worry-free.
“It was a very nice meal,” he stated. “No drama this time.”