Last week, we recognized World Heart Day on the blog and discussed why there is an urgent need for awareness about heart disease and stroke, the world’s number one killer. We also talked about how heart disease can be an abstract concept until you are exposed to someone’s personal story.
That’s why we are pleased to introduce you to Alan, a PatientsLikeMe member who is living with congestive heart failure (CHF) following a heart attack. A few years ago, he had a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) – or a battery-operated mechanical pump – surgically implanted to help his heart continue to pump blood to his body. What has he learned from his experience, and what’s his lifestyle like today? Find out that and more in our interview.
1) Tell us about your heart attack and how this journey began.
I suffered a heart attack some twelve years ago. While working in the yard one very cold afternoon I had “cold sweats” and a very sore throat. I started feeling better and decided to go to work the following day. Late in the morning of the second day I began feeling much worse and called my wife and told her she needed to pick me up and we should go to the hospital together. I told my wife and the triage nurse in the ER that I was developing pneumonia.
After a short time in the ER a technician came in and conducted an EKG. He immediately told the other personnel in the ER that I was exhibiting “tombstone T’s.” I was rushed to the Cath Lab and had a stent inserted into a vein in my heart. I never suffered any of the “classic” signs of a heart attack (crushing chest pain, pain in my arm(s), losing consciousness, losing the use of any extremity, etc.) Eight weeks after the stent implant I had open heart surgery (aorta valve, four bypasses, repair aortic aneurysms, etc).
2) What’s your lifestyle like today with your implanted LVAD?
Living with the LVAD has changed for the good and for not so good. I am somewhat limited in what I can do and not do, as opposed to my pre-LVAD life. There are activities I absolutely cannot do, and some I choose not to do. I cannot swim, bathe or shower without a special waterproof bag for electronics, fly the airplane we owned, drive fast cars and fast boats, hunt in the mountains, or bass fish in Mexico and South America. I have found that I can cook, watch grandchildren graduate from high school and college, watch great grandchildren come into the world and watch them grow and change.
3) What’s been the most unexpected part of your experience?
The most unexpected part of the heart disease journey was discovering that it did not take a club and a ball, a gun (shotgun or rifle), a rod and reel, flying an airplane, going off to fish and/or hunt, owning a fast car, etc., to be happy. Some of the other things I discovered were: vacations do not have to be long (distance and duration), they just have to be taken with someone you deeply care for, and who deeply cares for you; you discover which of your friends are sincere and true, and endeavoring to be a true and sincere friend in return; and many of the simple pleasures in life have been lost along the way in life’s journey.
4) What do you want others to know about their hearts?
Hopefully, even if it is only one person, what I say here might preclude that person from making the same misguided and poor decisions I made concerning diet, lifestyle, stress and the “things” it requires to be happy.