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Life with an LVDA heart pump
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Julie Topping

Julie is a former Charlotte resident now living in Detroit. She writes about nutrition and weight loss.

My husband came home after almost three weeks in the hospital following open-heart surgery. His heart is tired and it needed a boost. He is a candidate for a heart transplant, but because a heart didn’t get here quickly enough for him, he got an LVAD implanted on his ailing heart instead.

LVAD is short for a left ventricular assist device. Some people call it a heart pump. It is pumping the left side of his heart for him, the part that pushes blood through the body. It is made by Heartware and was approved by the U.S Food and Drug Administration late last year for patients such as him who are waiting for transplants.

It’s a change of life. No more showers, because he is attached to an electrical power source with an electrical cord (called a driveline) that runs from his heart, out of his abdomen, to the control unit that runs the LVAD. The cord is very short, about 3 feet long. The control unit runs by batteries during the day, and at night it is plugged in because the batteries don’t last long enough to get through the night. There’s a fanny pack and a shoulder strap. My husband prefers to carry the pump and the two batteries it runs on (first one, then the other) on his shoulder. It is not lightweight.


Above is the open carrying casing holding the two batteries, (top), and the control unit (bottom).

We live in fear of losing electrical power. If we do, we have to go to a fire station, police station, or somewhere else that has power so he can plug in and charge his batteries. If we go somewhere, anywhere out of the house, we have to carry a backup power unit and two extra batteries in case something goes wrong with the control unit he is wearing. If we want to travel out of the Detroit metro area, the hospital will make sure we know where the nearest LVAD center is in case we need help.

We change the dressing on the area where the driveline leaves the body every three days. It is nerve-racking, but I am getting the hang of it. Infections and accidents happen most frequently at the driveline site. People get them caught on doorknobs and they pull loose. Or they get infected.

Other people in the heart and vascular area were jealous of his LVAD, because it is smaller, lighter and quieter than the previous generation of LVADs. Nurses were fascinated by it because it was new and they wanted to know how it worked. A representative from the manufacturer was in the operating room when the surgeon implanted it, and later at my husband’s bedside to chat. A nurse who was in the OR told me watching it being placed on his heart was amazing.


The four extra batteries are in their charger, ready to use.

There are many who take it for the miracle of science that it is. But it is not something you want to have done to your own body if you can help it. It's a complex issue.

Thank God science has made it available. But try to do everything you can to avoid needing one. Try to eat healthier, work out on a regular basis, watch your numbers (at the doctor's office and the ones on food labels) and lose excess weight.

As African Americans, we are more likely to get the diseases that are connected with unhealthy eating, the diseases that are drivers of heart failure. Diabetes. High blood pressure. High cholesterol. If you end up with this stuff and are obese or overweight, the LVAD could be in your life too. And you don't want it to be.

The LVAD is difficult to live with. Just getting into the habit of not walking away without it is a chore that needs to be learned. My husband resisted the idea of getting one at first because the whole idea of being attached to a small machine that pumps your blood is…well, it’s hard to think about.

But it is pumping my husband’s blood when everything else stopped working; a quiet soldier, giving my husband back his strength, his sense of taste, his ability to function and think sharply and clearly. He has blood flow. His skin and body are warm again. And the people at Henry Ford Health System who made this happen are heroes.

Thanking God for good people and for miracles. Hoping you don't have to experience the same miracle.
***
Eighty percent is the number of black women who are obese or overweight in this country. Julie Topping writes for The 80 Percent Solution, a Facebook page for African-American women who want to lose weight and live a healthy life. Email julie.green.topping@gmail.com.
 



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July 25, 2014
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