Hearts and minds intersect in new hope-filled home


The first patient accepted into
the program, Kristina Buckley,
received her new heart on
May 8, 2020.

Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix launches comprehensive Heart Failure Center

Adding heart transplantation to its full suite of services for patients with heart failure, Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix is now home to the only fully comprehensive heart failure treatment center in Arizona, providing state-of-the-art care—from prevention to transplant. Successfully launching during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Advanced Heart Failure Program completed its 20th heart transplant at the end of 2020, with two of those procedures being heart and kidney double transplants.

The first patient accepted into the program, Kristina Buckley, received her new heart on May 8, 2020. She experienced a lifetime of cardiology issues beginning at just 4 years old, when a case of Spanish Flu and strep throat went untreated, leading to double pneumonia and scarlet fever, thereby damaging her heart.

“Because I thought I wouldn’t live long, I had a very active life,” Kristina explains. Becoming a licensed hunting and fishing guide, hiking, and having four children after being told she would likely have none are only a few examples of Kristina’s zest for life.

Since her transplant, Kristina says “I feel like I have a whole new life.” And she feels immense gratitude for the Advanced Heart Failure Program team. “They really care about you as a person. I felt like I was one of the family.”

Kristina Buckley underwent a heart
transplant in May after a lifetime of
heart problems that began with an
untreated infection at age 4.

The Advanced Heart Failure Program is supported by a collaborative team of experts. “Heart failure is not a death sentence, but it requires a specialized and coordinated health care team to provide the most comprehensive care,” said Radha Gopalan, MD, Medical Director for Advanced Heart Failure, Heart Transplant and Mechanical Circulatory Support at Banner – University Medicine Heart Institute, and Kristina’s physician.

Thankful for this new beginning, Kristina continues to seize the day. With a group of 20 women, she sews hundreds of masks and crochets ear savers to support those on COVID-19’s front lines and leads a heart transplant support group via Zoom for those just beginning the journey. “It’s not an easy road,” she says. “But how we look at life really helps. I think of things as temporary inconveniences. And, that everything I’ve gone through is for a purpose.