A Journey of Resilience: From Heart Attack to Heart Transplant and Beyond
In the realm of medical miracles and stories of resilience, few can match the inspiring journey of patients who have battled against the odds. One such remarkable story is that of Houston, a man who suffered a massive heart attack, developed intractable heart failure, and was referred for a left ventricular assist device (LVAD). After a few years of waiting for a heart, he came close to receiving one and then finally received a heart transplant. Today, Houston is not just surviving but thriving, camping, kayaking, and living a productive life. This article delves into Houston’s extraordinary experience, highlighting the remarkable strides in cardiac care and the resilience of the human spirit.
The Heart Attack and Intractable Heart Failure
Houston’s journey began when he was 21 years old and developed atrial fibrillation. Over the years, this rhythm disorder was affecting his quality of life and medications were not very helpful. He underwent a Maze procedure by Dr. David McGiffin at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and responded very well to the surgery. He remained health-conscious and exercised on a regular basis. Eleven years later, he was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia and underwent chemotherapy. He has been in remission since 2014. In 2018, at the age of 50, he developed a sudden onset of chest pain and presented to the emergency room. ECG revealed an anterior STEMI and he was taken to the cath. lab for an emergency PCI. His proximal LAD, the widow maker, was totally occluded and a coronary stent was deployed to reopen the coronary artery. This devastating heart attack left him grappling with a weakened heart and medical treatment for congestive heart failure was instituted. Despite this, he continued to deteriorate and he was diagnosed with intractable heart failure, a condition where the heart cannot pump blood effectively, severely affecting one’s quality of life. An ICD was implanted to treat symptomatic and life-threatening ventricular tachycardia. He was referred to the UAB transplant center for a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), a mechanical pump implanted in the chest that helps the heart pump blood.
The LVAD Journey
The decision to undergo LVAD implantation was an easy one for Houston. His kidneys were shutting down and they had to place a temporary balloon pump to keep him alive. An LVAD not only could keep him alive but would improve significantly his quality of life though it marked a significant turning point in his life, involving major surgery and a complex adjustment period. Houston’s determination to regain his health and live a fulfilling life was unwavering.
Life with an LVAD brought a new lease on life along with its own set of challenges. He had to learn to manage the device, including battery changes, dressing changes, and infection prevention. The LVAD became a constant companion, but it also became a lifeline, offering him the chance to live while waiting for a heart transplant.
The Waiting Game
Waiting for a heart transplant is a harrowing experience. Houston spent several years on the transplant list, a time marked by anticipation, hope, and uncertainty. Each call from the transplant center could mean the difference between life and death, and Houston’s resilience in enduring this period was nothing short of extraordinary.
Close Calls and False Alarms
Houston came close to receiving a heart on two occasions, only to have the possibility slip through his fingers. False alarms and moments of disappointment were part and parcel of his journey. But he refused to give up and maintained his determination to keep fighting.
The Miracle Moment
Finally, after 4 years of waiting, that life-altering call happened. He was the one who made the call. He had been feeling progressively worse and one day, while doing yard work, his LVAD alarm went off with: “Call now”. He was instructed to pack a bag and have someone drive him to the hospital. It was determined that he could not leave the hospital without a new heart. Three weeks later, a matching donor heart had been found, (not an easy feat for an O-negative recipient) and Houston was going to receive the gift of life he had longed for. The transplant surgery was a success, and Houston’s new heart began to beat in harmony with his dreams of a brighter future.
A New Beginning
The heart transplant marked a new beginning for Houston. Although easier than his LVAD surgery, his heart transplant surgery recovery presented new challenges, but his resilience and the support of his medical team and loved ones carried him through. Over time, Houston regained his strength and gradually returned to an active lifestyle, kayaking 20 miles, 6 months after his transplant operation.
Living a Productive Life
Today, Houston is not just surviving; he is thriving. He has become an advocate for organ donation and shares his story to inspire others facing similar challenges. He spends quality time with his family and enjoys every moment of his second chance at life.
Houston’s journey from a massive heart attack to receiving a heart transplant is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the remarkable advancements in cardiac care. His story is a reminder that, even in the face of life’s most daunting challenges, with determination and the support of medical professionals, loved ones, and the gift of organ donation, the human spirit can prevail.
Like Houston says: “Above all, be positive. You have around 100 billion neurons managing around 37 trillion cells throughout your body. Be careful what marching orders you give them because they are looking to you for direction”. When it comes to negativity, have a strict ZERO tolerance policy. Instead of hope, have faith. “Even in your darkest hour claim the win, know you are going to win, if anyone tells you differently, dismiss them. Get your mind right, literally “decide” things will improve knowing that “decide” means to cut off from ALL other options.” “This mindset won’t keep battles from coming your way but they will find you far better equipped for the fight. At the end of the day, whether it be half full, half empty, or shattered in pieces on the floor, it is your glass, and you’re going to have to make the best of it. Be thankful for the opportunity to do so and keep on keeping on.”
A growing body of research has linked positive emotions, optimism, and life satisfaction with better cardiovascular health, reduced risk of adverse outcomes in patients with heart disease, and lower incidence of cardiovascular disease in healthy populations.
Houston’s journey serves as an inspiration for all of us to cherish the gift of life and make the most of every opportunity it offers.