AHA News: Device Keeps 35-Year-Old’s Heart Pumping as He Awaits a Transplant

ON MONDAY, Jan. 10, 2022 (American Heart Association News) — Jeff and Christina Ross — and their beagle mix, Lacy — were walking their regular two-mile loop through their neighborhood in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, when Jeff started feeling the wind. It was a warm Sunday evening in early August 2020, and they went home.

Their house is located on a slight slope that can hardly be called a hill. But on this day, Jeff, an active 34-year-old, had to stop halfway to catch his breath.

He might have had a cold. His darkest thought was COVID-19.

Shortness of breath persisted for several days and resulted in a dry cough. The test result for COVID-19 came back negative.

Jeff had no appetite, so he forced himself to eat – and yet he had a distended stomach. Some days he would drag himself to work and other days he would get sick, which is rare for him.

Christina paid to get a doctor’s appointment, but they were only seeing serious cases due to the pandemic. A 34-year-old who appears to be in good health with a negative COVID-19 test does not appear to qualify.

Jeff managed to get some hypothetical tests. It was sent for testing.

Routine blood tests showed some abnormalities that were of no interest to doctors.

After a month of feeling ill, Jeff finally paid a personal visit with his GP.

Seeing Jeff’s legs and feet, which had been starting to swell in recent days, and his distended stomach, led to further tests. One was a blood test to measure NT-proBNP, a hormone that is released in response to changes in pressure within the heart, which can indicate heart disease.

Reading the results online that afternoon, Christina turned icy cold. The NT-proBNP Jeff statistic indicated heart failure. She was so loud that she called the doctor’s emergency number to see if Jeff should go to the emergency room. She was asked to wait for the results of an echocardiogram scheduled for the next day.

Soon, Jeff came home from work. Christina sat him on the love chair and said, “I think there is something really wrong with your heart, which is very serious.”

The next day, an echocardiogram confirmed the diagnosis of heart failure. The doctor said that the reason for this is cardiomyopathy, a disease that causes the heart muscle to enlarge and weaken. Now his care has become more urgent. He was sent to the emergency room and placed an intra-aortic balloon pump to help relieve the pressure on his weakened heart.

Two days later, Jeff was flown by helicopter to the Cleveland Hospital.

He was so sick that he could use a new heart. However, he was ineligible for a transplant due to the presence of some antibodies in his blood.

Instead, doctors implanted a left ventricular assist device. A mechanical battery-powered pump helps the left ventricle pump blood to the rest of the body. The device allows him to perform most activities. Left ventricular assist devices can sometimes be used as a short-term “bridge to implant,” and sometimes people keep them for years.

Meanwhile, the pesky antibodies were flushed out of his system.

“I didn’t realize how sick I was until people started treating her,” Jeff said.

In all, Jeff spent 46 days in the hospital. Due to the pandemic, Christina was not allowed to visit for most of that time. They continued to follow via video, especially when the doctors had important news to deliver. I also talked every night with his nurses.

When Jeff returned home in October 2020, he was greeted by a large welcoming committee of family and friends abroad. Due to COVID-19 concerns, only Cristina was allowed into the house.

From December to March, Jeff went to cardiac rehab to regain his ability to exercise.

He pushed himself to get better. After all, he got LVAD for a new lease on life and wanted to make the most of it.

“I wanted to be able to do as many things as possible, and not sit around feeling sorry for myself,” Jeff said.

May brought two gifts—the ability to get together with family again thanks to the COVID-19 vaccinations and a place on the heart transplant list.

Also in the spring, Jeff was allowed to return to his favorite activity, which is cycling.

Before heart failure, he used to ride 20 miles every weekend. He dreamed of eventually cycling the 87-mile Ohio and Erie Canal Topath Trail in one day. With that not being possible, set a more realistic goal.

Jeff divided the track into sections and tackled one at the end of each week. Christina, a runner, bought a bicycle and began riding with him. They started in late May with 6-mile sections and eventually worked their way up to 15 miles. They finished the entire track on Labor Day weekend.

And in his nature, Jeff finds new ways to make the most of what he can do.

“He’s ready for whatever challenge is thrown at him,” Christina said. “And we’ll be ready for the next set of challenges.”

American Heart Association news covers heart and brain health. Not all opinions expressed in this story reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. Copyright is owned or operated by the American Heart Association, Inc. , All rights reserved. If you have questions or comments about this story, please email editor@heart.org.

Written by Diane Daniel

© 2022 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

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