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Life with an LVAD

 

 Former Vice President Dick Chaney made headlines when he received an LVAD. He experienced a rough time following the surgery and almost didn’t make it. But, he was a lot sicker that I was at the time, and his surgery was done on an emergency basis to save his life. He recovered and from all I read he was doing quite well, living an almost normal life. Mr. Chaney had his LVAD for twenty months before he received a heart transplant. That was about average; two years seemed to be the time between the LVAD surgery and the transplant. You have to work your way up the transplant list.

 

My surgery to implant the device began on the morning of May 22, 2013. The next several days were a blur. Because of severe pain from what the doctors called a rib rub (the pump was rubbing against my rib cage), I received large doses of pain medication. My family tells stories of me seeing bugs crawling on the ceiling, and while making typing motions declaring that I was working on the computer. I remember one hallucination in particular. Molly, the LVAD coordinator, came in to teach Faye how to dress my drive line site. (The drive line came out of my right chest area and was connected to the batteries or power supply to power the pump) In my dream, they rolled me out and into this beautiful large room. Every things was pure white and there were columns and statues everywhere. I was fascinated just looking around and taking it all in. I was sure it was real, but sometime later when I asked Faye where they had taken us that day, she said, “nowhere, we were right in your room.” When I have shared that story some have asked, “Do you think it was heaven you were seeing?” I don’t know, it could have been.

 

After several days the pain began to ease and I required less medication. I was extremely weak and required help getting up, and walking was a chore. I gained a whole new appreciation for nurses, aids, and all the hospital staff who care for their patients. These people are some of the most patient, kind, and loving people you can imagine; I give thanks to God for them.

 

Life with an LVAD is not all that bad, you just have to make some adjustments. There are pros and cons to having this device. On the negative side, you must be attached to either the batteries (there are two of them about the size of an old VHS cassette tape, plus a control unit that fits in a “fanny pack”), or a power supply that sits beside your bed and you plug into at night. You are limited by 20 feet of cord when hooked to the power supply. I could get to the bathroom, but that was it. Wearing the batteries in the day was not too bad, but they were warm and as the weather got hot they were uncomfortable at times. Hiding everything under my clothes was a challenge also. The drive line site that came out of my right side had to have the dressing changed daily. Faye took care of that chore which was inconvenient at best. You also had to take your “go bag” with you everywhere you went. The “go bag” contained spare batteries, controller unit, and small batteries for the control unit. I remember one day we were headed to Cary when Faye asked, “did you get your bag?” “No,” I had forgotten it. We had to turn around and go back to get it. Should something fail on the unit, you have about 15 – 30 minutes to replace it. Normal battery life was about 8 – 10 hours and I had four sets of batteries. On the plus side, I could not believe how much better the device made me feel. I could do things I was not able to do before the LVAD, like walk uphill without having to pause, and I even played golf wearing it. I am glad I consented to having it implanted. From May 22, 2013 until April 14, 2014 I pretty much lived my normal life, thankful that God had given me this miracle of sorts.

 

Show Time

 

Our grandson, Adam, was out of school for Easter break and came to spend the week with us. Faye had big plans of yard cleaning, mowing, putting out mulch, etc. We had spent most of the day working in the yard and decided to take a little break about 2:30 or so. We had no sooner got in the garage when my cellphone rang. It was Catherine, one of the transplant coordinators. “How are you doing?” “Doing fine,” I replied, “been working in the yard all day.” “So you’re feeling ok, no cold, fever, anything?” “No, I feel great.” Then she got to the point; “How quickly can you get here, we think we’ve got you a heart!” Quick showers, a change of clothes, a few phone calls and we were off to Baptist Hospital. We arrived at the hospital about 5:30 Monday evening April 14, 2014. I went directly to the CCU unit where the staff immediately went to work preparing me for surgery. Things move rather quickly the rest of the evening with normal surgery preparations, x-rays, etc. I was taken down to the “OR” about 11:00 pm where they briefly made some final checks, and let me have a brief moment with my family, then into the surgical suite. It was about 11:30 pm. I was told very little about the donor heart; it was out of state, about an hour flight from Winston-Salem, and that of a younger person (25 – 35 years of age). That’s all I will probably ever know about the donor. My prayers to the deceased family, and my gratitude to the donor for being willing to offer someone else the gift of life, despite their tragedy. My thanks to God for giving doctors the knowledge and skills to save lives in this way.

 

I woke up in the ICU, with the medical staff complimenting me on how quickly I came off the ventilator and began breathing on my own. I was in some pain, but nothing out of the ordinary after surgery. I was swollen, had tubes coming out of my chest. I just wanted to sleep, but there was a nurse or doctor doing something (and I didn’t care what at the time) to me. Time was again a blur during this period, and I kept telling myself it would be better in a few days, just hang in there. One interesting thing was the pain medication – morphine, I think. The bugs came back, crawling on the ceiling and paint splatters on the walls – and I enjoyed it! After all, you need some entertainment while lying in a hospital bed. I thought it was fascinating watching the little bugs crawl around. But I also learned something you should not do – tell the nurse about the bugs! They cut off my morphine; no more bugs to watch – bummer. After a couple of days I was transferred to the CCU unit and then out to a regular room a couple of days later. It just so happened it was the same room I was in when I had the LVAD surgery. I remembered several of the staff from before and they were great. Now it was just a matter of getting the “numbers” right. That means they had to adjust the dosages of the various medications that prevent rejection. It is somewhat trial and error for an individual, but it has to be right. Physically, I could have been released from the hospital sooner, but they had to get all just right with the medications. I was finally released on Thursday May 1 about 5:00 p.m. “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty I’m free at last (MLK)” Those words of Martin Luther King Jr. came to mind as I was getting into the car to come home.

 

Quarantine or not to quarantine

 

The heart transplant program at Baptist has a new medical director whose thinking is a little different from the former director and the current staff who worked under the former director. The program is in a period of transition. The new director basically said I could be out around people, but just not sick people, and limit touching and close contact. Wash your hands a lot and wear a mask when in doubt. The “old” thinking was to be confined for the first three months. The danger is infection, of course, since your immune system is basically non-existence. So, I’m trying to strike a balance between the two schools of thought. I am going out some, but I try to be very careful about being around crowds of people. We’ve been to a couple of restaurants when we were the only ones there because we went early. I have to go back to Baptist weekly right now (that will change after the first month), and what more germ infected place than a hospital. But for now, a biopsy of the heart muscle is the only way to make sure my body is not rejecting the heart, and so far there have been no signs of rejection.

 

My recovery and progress since the surgery has been pretty routine. I feel better than I’ve felt in a long, long time. I have to keep reminding myself that I am recovering from major surgery and I have to give my body time to heal. I’m trying to take it slow, but as I told Faye the other day, what I really would like to do would be go to my office and start working. This sitting around the house gets old in a hurry for someone who has worked most of their life. There is also some guilt; I hear of people who are sick or something and I would like to offer pastoral care. I’d like to be there in the pulpit on Sundays, proclaiming the good news of Christ, but I can’t right now. So, I’m putting my time in waiting for the months to pass. My goal is to return by the first Sunday in July. I will have to make some modifications, like not going to the front and shaking hands, etc. But I trust you’ll understand. All things considered I am overly blessed. I am thankful for the love and support of my family, and my church family. I am thankful for the prayers that were offered up on my behalf from literally around the world (I had a missionary praying for me from a foreign land). I felt those prayers as the hand of God has been upon me. By God’s grace I trust I will continue to do well and return to normal strength.

 

It has been an incredible journey so far. But that is exactly how I’ve looked at it – a journey. I began it not knowing where I’d end up, and I still don’t in many ways. But I’ve determined to put my hand in God’s hand. I trust Him to lead me safely along the way until journey’s end. In the words of Bill Gaither’s song: “I don’t regret a mile, I’ve traveled for the Lord; I don’t regret a time, I’ve trusted in His Word …” The miracle of a new heart really happened many years ago when I bowed before an altar and invited Christ into my life as my Lord and Savior. As I awoke on Easter Sunday morning in the ICU, Easter and resurrection took on a whole new meaning for me. For in many ways I had been raised from the dead and given a new heart.

 

A whole new ballgame

 

I entered Baptist Hospital early in February 2013, and on the second day of my stay, several people entered my room and introduced themselves as the Advance Heart Failure/Transplant team. I didn’t realize it then, but these people would become like family to me as the days and months passed. They told me they had reviewed my medical records and would like to proceed to qualify me for future heart transplantation. They also asked if I had heard of an LVAD, or Left Ventricular Assist Device. I had heard of it, but didn’t know anything much about it. They explained the device in great detail, as well as the heart transplant program. They asked permission to run test to see if I was a candidate; to which I agreed. For the next three days I underwent every medical test known to man (well, maybe not all, but a lot). I had scans, tubes run into most every orifice of my body, blood tests, stress tests, cardiac catheterization (both left and right heart), breathing tests, and on and on. The results: I was a candidate for heart transplant, but needed a LVAD as a bridge to transplant. I was not too thrilled about the LVAD because I would be “tied” to a power source, either batteries or a power supply, all the time. I asked about just going ahead and getting the transplant, but the doctor told me that nobody would directly transplant me now because I was still functioning and doing fairly well. I resisted the idea that I needed an LVAD immediately. I said, “Doc, I know that down the road I’ll need this treatment – maybe in a few more years.” He looked at me for a moment in silence then dropped a bomb shell. “In my professional opinion,” he said, “you have about 18 months to live without intervention.” Wow! Did I hear him right? I have only 18 months to live? It’s strange how we go into denial at news like that – I didn’t believe him! I said, “You may be right, but I am still working every day and doing what I need to do. I think it will be quite some time before I get to that point. However, the doctor began to paint an ugly picture. “In the coming months your kidneys, which are already showing signs of deterioration, will begin to fail; then your liver will fail, and finally your body will no longer be able to compensate. But, the choice is yours, you may choose to live out your days and go into the presence of God.” Again, I didn’t really believe what I was hearing. “Ok,” I said, “I understand that I will need the device down the road but I don’t want it right now.”

 

Let’s do it

 

In mid-March I was back in the hospital, my heart out of rhythm once again. Again the LVAD was brought up, and one by one each member of the medical team tried to convince me I needed it, and I needed it soon. Again I resisted the idea, hoping to at least put it off for a long time. This time my heart went back into rhythm on its own. “This is going to continue to happen with more frequency as your heart gets weaker, and you’re going to be in the hospital numerous times. I went home, having a lot of talks with the Lord and my family. Like most people I hate being sick, and I absolutely hate hospitals! I was not prepared to live a sickly life if there was anything that could be done to prevent it. When I went back for my follow-up appointment in mid-April, I had made up my mind to have the LVAD implanted. If it would improve my quality of life it would be worth the risk and inconvenience. When my doctor brought it up during the visit I responded, “Let’s do it.” I was scheduled for surgery the latter part of May. I was in God’s hand, and I would trust in Him to “work all things together for good …”

God's Call to Prayer

Matthew 7:1 12

Jesus lived in an attitude and atmosphere of prayer. He was in continuous communion with the loving God. This is not to imply that he always had his head bowed or that he was always on his knees. But he was always in immediate contact with God. He was open to God, and responsive to God. On many different occasions Jesus went apart into a private place for prayer (Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16; 9:18, 28).


I. WHY DO WE SO OFTEN NEGLECT TO PRAY?

 

  1. Is it because we feel self-sufficient in our own human ability? Is it that we feel no need for the wisdom, power, and grace of God?
  2. Is it because we do not have our heart in the work of God's Kingdom? Perhaps we don't have a burden of compassionate concern in our hearts for the needs of people about us?
  3. Do we neglect to pray because we are too busy with the common tasks of life in which we are seeking to feed our stomachs and clothe our backs?
  4. Maybe we neglect to pray because we do not like to face our sins? It's too painful and humiliating.
  5. Do we neglect to pray because of our blindness to our own spiritual poverty and to the needs of those about us?


II. PRAYER HAS GREAT REWARDS

 

Repeatedly Jesus encouraged his disciples to believe that the heavenly Father is a prayer-hearing and a prayer-answering God.

  1. Prayer brings salvation to all of those who call upon him in repentance and faith (Rom. 10:13).
  2. We can experience forgiveness of our sins when we respond to the call to prayer and confess those sins.
  3. We can be blessed with the guidance of God's Holy Spirit as we come to him in our times of uncertainty.
  4. We can receive the power of the Holy Spirit for victory over evil in our own lives or for a ministry to others (Luke 11:13).

 

Charles Haddon Spurgeon said that the Christian who departs for the day’s work without first talking to God is like a soldier who departs for battle without his weapons. By prayer we check in with the heavenly headquarters. It is in the experience of prayer that the heavenly Father communicates his wishes to us. It is when we pray that he gives us commissions and responsibilities.

In the early morning hours of April 15, 2014 I underwent a heart transplant at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC. This would not only be a life-saving event, but a milestone on a journey that really began on September 20, 1986 when I suffered a major “heart attack.” This is my story of blessing and new life.

 

“It’s the big one …”

 

It was a beautiful September afternoon, and what better way to spend it than on the golf course. When you’re 39 years old, you feel somewhat invincible, and certainly having a heart attack is just not in your thinking. As I was putting out on the second hole of Reynolds Park Golf Course in Winston-Salem, I felt this intense pressure and pain in the upper chest. I first thought it was bad indigestion, but after a few minutes I knew it was much more serious. My training as an EMT kicked in and I determined that it was probably a heart attack. My EMT partner was playing behind me and I asked someone to get him. I remember him looking at me with that concerned look and asking “what’s wrong?” “Ronnie,” I replied, “I’ve got classic symptoms of a heart attack! Take me to Baptist (Hospital).” Little did I realize at the time, but that would be not only a life-saving decision, but would have a direct effect on my quality and quantity of life. I was given a new drug, tPA, which is a clot buster drug, designed to restore at least some blood flow to the heart muscle. This treatment most likely saved my life. I spent ten days in the hospital, and told to go home and not do much for six weeks. In a few weeks I felt good as new. I received regular follow-up visits at Baptist and tried to follow a heart healthy diet, I quit smoking and got more exercise. But as my doctor often alluded to, time would not be my friend as it related to my damaged heart. In the back of my mind I knew as I got older my heart would become an issue and that my life expectancy was diminished. It would be some twenty years before my next heart related crisis.

 

Fast forward to 2007

 

It had been busy day of ministry, I had done sermon preparation, made a couple of visits to parishioners, and finished with a pastoral visit at the local hospital. I had not felt good that afternoon, a little “fluttery” in my chest, but I passed it off as being tired. Shortly after I returned home, I felt my heart rhythm go out of whack. A trip to the hospital revealed I was in a serious heart rhythm, often called “V Tack.” I was shocked back into rhythm and referred to Baptist Medical Center for follow-up. At Baptist I was checked out and told I should receive an ICD or “Internal Cardiac Defibrillator.” It was designed to deliver a shock or pacing therapy should my heart act up again. Fortunately, I was only shocked once during my years with the device, but it was comforting to know it was there if I needed it. Again I returned home, healed from the surgery, and resumed my normal routine. All was well, so I thought, but this was the beginning of a downhill slide. I would experience several more episodes of my heart out of rhythm over the next couple of years. Another hospital stay In 2012 I ended up in the hospital again and came under the care of a Raleigh Cardiologist. Again, I was shocked back into rhythm. During follow-up appointments with my “new” cardiologist, I underwent several tests that confirmed I had an enlarged heart, and my heart was pumping only about 30 percent of normal. My medication was doubled, and I was told that I could continue to do ok for a long time.

By early January 2013 I was not feeling that good, nor did I seem to have the energy I needed at times. I was beginning to face the reality that my health was headed downhill. Needless to say, I had a lot of questions; how much longer could I work? Would I get to the point that I could not function? How long could I live? I didn’t have answers. But I did have faith and trust in the One who does have the answers. I prayed, “Lord, I belong to You, and You have blessed me in so many ways, this too is in Your hands.” It’s amazing what God can do when you trust Him.

 

The invisible hand

 

It was mid-January 2013 when I went to the mailbox and there was an appointment reminder from my Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center cardiologist. I was scheduled to see him in about a week for my six month checkup. My first thought was to cancel and continue to see my new cardiologist in Raleigh, but that “still small voice” said “keep the appointment.” During the checkup I related to my doctor how bad I felt at times with no energy, etc. and that the cardiologist in Raleigh had doubled my medications. He reviewed my meds and told me I was way over medicated and that was likely the reason I felt so bad. He said, “I’ve got this newer drug that I would like to try you on, the only thing is you’ll have to stay in the hospital two or three days to make sure you’re able to take it.” My reply, “Doc if it will make me feel better, let’s go for it.” Then he added, “While you’re in the hospital, I’d like to have you evaluated by our Advanced Heart Failure group, I think you would benefit from that long term.” Again I agreed, not really understanding what I was about to get myself into.

(see Part II in a few days)

July 3, 2011

 

 

 

July 4, our annual Independence Day celebration serves to remind us of the sacrifices, character, ideas, ideals, and faith that have gone into the making of our national history. Too often today we just celebrate a holiday. How often we take for granted our freedoms. Let us use this as a time to reflect.

 

  A TIME TO REMEMBER.

 

The price of what we enjoy was high. Days of hardship and grave uncertainty accompanied the efforts of those colonial leaders who led us to attain our freedom as a sovereign nation. Can you imagine a rag tag group of farmers standing up to the most powerful army in the world at that time. Can you imagine the sacrifices these families had to make to ensure our freedom? The price of freedom was paid for by the blood of many.

 

The price of our Christian liberty was also very high. The Bible tells us that we too "were bought with a price," and "if the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed."  Christ was sacrifice for our sins.

 

 

   A TIME TO RETURN.

 

 

To first principles of work, sacrifice, discipline, patriotic devotion, love of justice and freedom, honesty, high purpose, and respect for the rights of others. These were first and basic principles in the foundations of our nation.

 

Take seriously individual initiative, private industry, the freedom to choose and work for a way of life — these are fundamentals of life in a free society. All are primary factors in a government of free people, and they are diminishing factors in the way of life we know in our age.

  A TIME TO RECOGNIZE.

 

 

The evils of our materialistic, power-crazed, technological age. Millions never know what it means to go to bed at night without feeling hunger, yet our nation spends money on things of little importance, so much so that we have the highest national debt in our history. Someone has said, "We spend money we do not have to buy status symbols we do not need, to keep up with people we do not know and probably would not like if we did know them."

 

There are some dangerous trends of our times. For years the trend has been to withdraw religion from our public schools and government institutions. In the past, American tradition has kept government closely allied with religion. Our presidents have used the Bible in taking the oath of office; Congress opens its sessions with prayer; our pledge to the flag includes the phrase “One nation, under God”; our coins are inscribed with “In God We Trust”; and the first sentence of the Declaration of Independence uses the word “God,” recognizing him as our Creator, and the last sentence uses the phrase “With a firm reliance on divine providence.”

 

The Bill of Rights (Articles I – X) of the Constitution begins with the First Amendment, in which we read, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting free exercise thereof.” Serious students of history know this had to do with one specific contextual matter, a “state church.” The framers of the Constitution never dreamed that this nation would ever forget God! Now, in effect, laws are made by judges to prohibit those Christians who desire to express their faith in the public sector. A high school graduating class is prohibited from having a prayer at their graduation because one person objected.

 

 

  A TIME TO RENEW.

 

 

Our allegiance to God and country. It is significant that in many churches the American and Christian flags are displayed together; they are not in opposition one to the other, but they complement each other.

 

Our faith in God, the cause of freedom and the meaning of our text for today, “Proclaim liberty throughout the land.”

 

 

 

Let all the bells of freedom ring! Let freedom ring so the words of Abraham Lincoln may come true, “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

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