My Heart Transplant Story

On November 18th, 2012 I was admitted to Pardee Hospital for what I thought was pneumonia.  The same day, I was flown to Mission hospital by helicopter due to Respiratory failure.  I was at Mission a total of about two days.  They had to shock my heart back into rhythm 13 times because I was in an arrhythmia called vtach, or ventricular tachycardia.  The head cardiologist at Mission told my wife that I was in heart failure and that there was nothing that Mission doctors could do for me.  He said he was referring me to Duke University Medical Center for a heart transplant assessment and that I was the sickest patient in the hospital.  Life Flight from Duke came and picked me up at mission on November 20th and flew me to Duke.  All this time I was in an induced coma and on a ventilator.  I didn’t know anything that was going on at this time.  The last thing I remember was talking to a nurse in the Pardee Hospital ER.  Everyone had their doubts that I would make it out of Mission alive. 

I got to Duke University in about an hour and forty minutes by helicopter.  I was taken straight to the seventh floor ICU unit.  There, they were able to get my heart under control with medication.  I was now running a fever of 104.  They were putting ice water in my stomach and packing me down with ice trying to get my temperature down.  No one could figure out why I was running a temperature.  I had many teams of doctors at Duke looking at me.  These doctors are the best in the country and have one of the leading heart failure teams.  Meanwhile, while the doctors were trying to figure out why I had the fever my heart started going downhill again.

When I was admitted to Duke, they did a battery of tests, one of which was a catheterization.  This test showed that my heart’s ejection factor was 15%.  A normal person has an ejection factor somewhere between 50-60%.  My heart was so weak that it could not keep the fluid moving forward and as a result, fluid was back flowing into my lungs, which was causing the respiratory failure.  Each time I was taken off the ventilator, my lungs would fill with fluid within 24 hours and I would have to be re-incubated.  The doctors tried many tactics to help my heart.  One thing they attempted was to put a balloon in to support my hearts pressures.  This did nothing to help and I ended up being put on a bi-ventricular assist device, also known as a bi-vad.

This machine is 400 pounds and the size of a washing machine.  Four cannulas were inserted into my heart and were also attached to the bi-vad, exiting through four holes in my stomach.  This machine did all the work of my heart for my body while they got me listed for a heart transplant.  I got the bi-vad machine on December 4th.  I was in ICU for a couple of days and then moved to step down at the 3300 unit.  This is where the fun started to begin for me.  I was awake and finally realized that I had been in the Hospital for the last 17 days.  I had no idea what was going on.  I was on so many drugs before I didn’t know the reality of what was happening to me.

Now I was on the 3300 unit floor.  This was step down for me.  I think it was December 6th when I arrived in room 3310.  When I got down there I had my amazing wife that had been by my side from the beginning. The nurses got me up for the first time this day to start walking.  I stood up got dizzy and had to sit back down.  My first nurse in 3300 name was Hope.  I have more to tell about her later because I didn’t get her again as my nurse until later down the line.  The Doctors came in to see me and told me all that I had been through and what was going on with my machine and how it worked.  Dr. Milano was the surgeon that done my Bi-Vad surgery.  This is one great man and one hell of a surgeon.  All the risk that come along with me having this surgery, this man told my wife he would give it his all and he saved my life.  I thank God every day for putting me in the hands of this man.

We got a call about two weeks into waiting on my transplant.  They said we have a donor heart and Dr. Manny was on his way to get it and check it out.  We got prepped and done all of the blood work.  In came Dr. Manny telling me that the family of the donor wanted to give it to someone they knew that needed it.  Dr. Manny was very sad for me.  I could see it in his eyes.  I was ok with it because I have faith that God new it wasn’t the right heart for me.

I got a call early Saturday morning on January 12, 2013.  They had found me another match.  It was hopefully the one for me.  I was called around 3am and they come in and done all of my blood work and then we waited.  I was rolled down to the ER about 9:30 am that Saturday morning.  They were prepping me for the heart transplant and that’s the last thing I remember until I woke up in the ICU recovery room.  I woke up just in time to see Atlanta kick the winning field goal in the playoff game.  I was under for about 12 hours, they really didn’t start the surgery until around 3:00 pm.  They had some trouble going to get the heart because the fog was so bad.  Then the wind picked up and pushed the fog out and they were off to get my heart.  Dr. Shrouder was the man that done my heart transplant.  Thank God again for another awesome surgeon and a great man. I can not speak highly enough about this man.  I was released from the hospital on January 20, 2013 a week and a day after my heart transplant.

I wanted to speak a little bit on the best thing that has ever happened to me in my life, which was the day I meet my lovely bride.  Kimberly Fullerton has been the inspiration in my life.  She is the glue that holds our family together.  The storms of life were blowing in and she was there the whole time to shield me and my kids.  I wouldn’t have made it through the last three months without her.  I would fall apart without her.  I don’t know how she did what she did.  She was with me every day while I was in the hospital not knowing what was going to happen next and had our 15 month old boy and 5 year old girl to worry about also.  Kimberly makes me feel like I can overcome anything.  I still get choked up every time this woman tells me she loves me.  There is no doubt about it that heaven sent me her, she is like an angel from above that watches over me.

From this experience I have learnd who you have been is not who you have to be.  I always thought that working all the time was a good thing, I was supporting my family and giving them what they needed, but the whole time I think they need a husband and a father.  This new journey in life is going to be an uphill climb.  I look in the mirror and see a man that is not as good as he is going to be but better then he used to be. I am changing my career path from what I am doing to getting an education were I can spend more time with the most important three people in my life.  I take every day one heartbeat at a time. Life may not be the party we hoped for but while we are here we might as well dance.

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  •  All Of our storys are so much alike ! But mine started a long time ago. and now 15 years post heart txp I still remember it like it was yesterday,

    Well my story started back in 1991. At the age of 35 years old I was told that I was very- very sick and that nothing could be done for me .I was told to go home prepare myself for the end.

    I then checked out of that hospital and checked myself into the Cleveland Clinic. Three days later I was told yes a viral infection had damaged the left side of my heart. Viral Cardiomyopathy. A Heart Transplant would be the only choice some Day? I would not be able to return to my very physical demanding job? I would need a new job or be on disability the rest of my life.


     Well with help from my employer things worked out.  My life went on until late 1997 when I started feeling very tired a lot. I would come home from work and basically passed out until it was dinner time. Then after dinner it was off to sleep for the rest of the night. I then called the CCF and told them I was not doing well.  I was in the clinic around the end of December and was told that it would be hard to tell if my condition had worsened without some tests.


    Well the tests would come in February after returning from a winter vacation with my wife Debbie and 30 more friends and family. We checked into the Cleveland Clinic and would not be discharged for almost 11 weeks. I needed my Heart Transplant Now. When I was admitted I was told that my kidneys where failing due to my weakened heart function. I was told I should be light headed and should have a hard time seeing? We’ll all that did happened. When I tried to get out of bed I would pass out.


    Well a few weeks would go by and I think I spent more time in the Heart Failure ICU’s than I did anywhere else?  You see most heart transplant patients waiting in the hospital are in regular rooms with roomates.Yes they are hooked up to IV’s and things but for the most part the wait isn’t too bad? You where aloud to wear PJ’s. have or even shorts or sweats, and a few times a week you would go to Cardiac Rehab to walk on the tread mills. None of that happens In the ICU’s you are basically stuck in bed.


    Well with my kidneys failing I was told that I would not make it to a heart transplant without more help? I was then told I would need to have a LVAD (left ventricle assist device). This pump would be put into my chest with a drive line coming out to supply power to it. This pump would assist my now failing heart.


    Well I had the pump put in but for some reason never left the ICU for almost a week. I had some type of infection that would require IV drugs for days. Finally back up to a regular room? Well sort of? You see these pumps had lots of monitors and battery charging stations so I had a private room. After a few weeks I returned to rehab with my lvad. But that stopped soon also. You see for some reason I kept bleeding from where the pump drive line came out? Back to the ICU’s for transfusions.


    Well a few weeks passed with more bed rest and waiting. And then one night at 1:30am I was awaken by the transplant coordinator who said they may have a heart for me!  I called Debbie and told her she should get down to the Hospital a.s.a.p. At around 4:00am I was taken down to the ICU area to be prepped for my transplant.


    What we didn’t know was that my heart was down south about 300 miles away and there where torandos in the area there.  I was not taken into surgery until around 7:00am. I remember hugging and kissing all my family that was there that morning. And the last thing I remembered until I awoke! I was now counting backwards from 100 for the anthiseislogist. 


    The surgery took about 4 hours and by 8:00pm that night I had the breathing tube out and was talking to my wife. Wow amazing. The next morning I saw my whole family including one son who flew in from school out of state. But this was just the start of something bad. You see at about 6:00pm that evening after Debbie had gone home for a short visit I went into acute rejection. The staff said “Mike there is something wrong and we need to fix this” I was put back under on a ventilator and a bed side assist device for my heart that was not pumping enough.


    Debbie got back to the Hospital and was told what was happening, the doctors told her they had less than 36 hours to fix this or I would need another heart. They put in many IV’s and did all kinds of tests. After 24 hours they told my family that all was fine but they would watch me very closely for the next two days. And on the third day I was brought back out on the coma they had me I and once again off the ventilator and I was talking.


    Well-being very weak I was shocked when about ten days later they told me I would be going home. May 1 I was discharged from the Cleveland Clinic. Wow was it weird sleeping in my own bed for the first time in over 11 weeks. I was very weak and could barely go  up or down any stairs for about two weeks. But finally I was out walking on my own. First it was maybe just a few houses up the street and a few down the street. Then it was around the block. I started Rehab in late May. At first I would drive there and then do my rehab and drive home. Well by the middle of the six week season I was walking to the center and walking home from the rehab center. About 20 minutes each way.


    Well October 1, 1998 I returned to work full time. What an amazing six months.  I have been very lucky over the past 14 years! Not once Have I been readmitted to the hospital for any complications.


    Over the past 15 years I have volunteered to visit future heart transplant patients waiting in the Clinic. I have talked to civic groups and have been at fundraisers for others who are waiting for that gift of life like I received. I have seen firsthand how great organ donation can be! I now  have a good friend who received a Lung transplant about 10 months ago. Plus have meet many more heart Transplant recieapants.

    I also have started my own business now. Durning the summer months here in Ohio I run a Charter fishing service and enjoy everyday out on the water telling my story to most of my customers.

    Life is great thanks to that donor who gave me a second chance at LIFE.

  • Me Again! I was ready to close down and saw your story.  I am humbled by what you have been through and your inspiring attitude.  You have inspired me to get on the ball and finish my own story. We all have a story don't we? And! Not one exactly the same. But the similarities are striking. I am much older than you, as I was 57 when I transplanted and am now 76. What a miracle and blessing this transplant has been in my life just as it has been in yours. Age doesn't matter we are all survivors. My husband is also an angel and has stood by me through thick and thin. I have honestly never heard him complain - not once. My motto is "Don't ask why - ask how." How can I make it through this miracle, how can I endure the bad times, how can I become better, how can I reach out and help another.

    I love words and your comment "I take every day one heartbeat at a time" are words that I want to incorporate into my own life. Thank you for the inspiration.

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My dear Friend Susy - a double lung transplant survivor is in need of a Kidney Angel (O positive blood type).  If you can be Susy's Hero- contact her at Thank You So Much!