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.