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Debbie: When you’re laying there, and you just hear this tick-tick-tick-tick going on, it’s kind of scary, and there go my batteries. I have to change. This part here supply the power from the batteries to my drive line, which is hooked to the heart pump inside of me.
Debbie: Hi, doc.
Dr. Brian Jaski, Interventional Cardiologist: Hi. How are you?
Debbie: How are you doing?
Dr. Jaski: Good to see you. Good.
Dr. Jaski: Debbie has had a long history of heart problems that go back to her 20s, as she developed symptoms related to genetic impairment of her heart muscle.
Debbie: It got to the point where I was in a wheelchair, and I had an oxygen tank. They knew that if they didn’t do something, I was gonna die.
Dr. Jaski: She needed several heart surgeries in the 1980s. The surgeries were lifesaving. The excellent doctors who had been taking care of her were realizing they were hitting a wall with conventional medications, pacemaker devices, and felt that she should be referred to Sharp Memorial. This time to save her life, she needed a left-ventricular assist device.
Suzanne Chillcott, RN, Mechanical Circulatory Support: Debbie has a HeartMate® II, Left Ventricular Assist Device. This is exactly what’s inside Debbie, tucked up under the ribs. This part here is sewn to the left ventricle. This part here is cut to fit to the aorta. Her native heart’s still in there, still beating and everything. We have 11 different types of devices. Nobody has this depth of a program that has long-term LVAD support. It’s a whole team of people that are taking care of these patients. Cardiologists, cardiovascular surgeons, endocrinologists and home health nurses.
Debbie: Come on in. Let me get this for you. It’s good to see you.
Suzanne: And the drive line is how we get the power into the pump. The drive line we tunnel across your abdomen and bring it out over here.
Debbie: The LVAD gives me a lot more confidence. When I didn’t have this LVAD, I felt like my time could come any moment.
Debbie: OK, thank you.
Chris McGovern, Home Health Nurse: Debbie has one of the most positive attitudes of anybody I’ve known in my life, not just a patient. And you look at her, and you think oh, she’s doing great. Well, she is doing great, but she’s been through hell.
Debbie: It’s been a tough road, but I’m not going to lie, there’s been things that have been tough.
Suzanne: We have over 30 people on pump, and every year we host a summer barbecue for them, with them and their families, in my backyard.
Male Patient: I call it my baby. It goes everywhere with me.
Debbie: It feels like I’m carrying around a baby. It’s a good thing for us to get together and get a bunch of tips from everybody.
Female Patient: It’s just wonderful to think that I’m alive. I mean, I’m just so thankful.
Suzanne: Most of these patients, they know how close they were to death. Some of them actually died. They get to that point, where they have a cardiac arrest, and so life is much more precious. They don’t take anything for granted any more.
Dr. Peter Hoagland, Cardiologist: It takes incredible courage on the part of these people, to have stepped into the unknown. I mean, these people are astronauts. They are breaking new technological ground, being supported by an electric heart. And it takes tremendous courage, and to live life like this.
Debbie: This power base unit is what I hook up to at nighttime. I’m pretty much stuck in the bedroom, because it only goes as far as this cord will go. If the power goes out, this machine screeches really loud, so that I’m able to have time to switch to batteries, and then San Diego Gas & Electric has been notified that I survive off of this, so we’re one of the first ones to get power back.
Dr. Jaski: To give her her best long-term option, it is necessary for her to go over that next step, which would be a heart transplant.
Debbie: I would like to get my own heart again.
Dr. Jaski: There was, however, a snag. She had contracted hepatitis C from one of her blood transfusions from years before.
Debbie: This past year, I did treatment with Interferon to see if I could get rid of the hepatitis. You give yourself a shot once a week. If you can imagine what you feel like when you have the flu, just picture that every day for a whole year. I didn’t want anybody around; I didn’t feel like celebrating Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, none of that.
Dr. Jaski: If there has been no recurrence of hepatitis, she would potentially be a heart transplant candidate.
Debbie: I now have to wait six months to see if it really worked.
[Debbie and her family go camping.]
Debbie: As soon as they took me off Interferon, I have been doing great.
Debbie’s Husband: Deb’s power base unit is right back here, and we have it plugged in, these extension cords and plug into an outlet over there.
Debbie’s Daughter: You have to wear the helmet. Or you could get hurt.
Debbie’s Daughter: The brakes are on the handles!
Debbie: It’s the first time I’ve been on a bike for quite a while. Before the LVAD, I could not do it at all. I wouldn’t even think about it. This makes me feel good today. I feel like a kid again.
Debbie’s Husband: You look like a kid again.
Debbie: When things were going pretty bad for me, one of the doctors said, “Debbie, you’re sick enough now, you could die. But if you get the right attitude, I believe you can go on for a very long time.” And I love life. I want to be here for a long time.
[Three months after Debbie’s Interferon treatment.]
Debbie: I had a blood test a week ago. And what I’m hoping to find out is that I’m undetectable of the hepatitis C, and then they’ll test me again in October, and if I’m undetectable then, then I have a chance to be put on the heart transplant list. I said a prayer coming here, because maybe it’s not meant for me to have this heart transplant, even though I do want it really bad.
Debbie: This is the part where you feel like your heart stops, is the waiting. It’s like, come on. You don’t know how bad I want to hear it.
Debbie: Hi, Dr. Politoske.
Dr. Douglas Politoske, Gastroenterologist: How are you feeling off the Interferon?
Debbie: I’m feeling great. It took about three weeks, but I do feel like myself again.
Dr. Politoske: Back to normal, good. Well, I know the most important thing you’re here for is the blood results, so I don’t want to keep you waiting.
Debbie: Oh, OK.
Dr. Politoske: But so far it’s negative. Yes, it is. You know, so the treatment has worked up to this point, so we’ve got to keep our fingers crossed, but that’s good news.
Debbie: Thank you so much.
Dr. Politoske: You put a lot into getting there.
Debbie: Oh God, I told people, I said, it feels like my heart’s just going to stop, just wanting to hear the news.
Dr. Politoske: I know.
Debbie: Thank you so much for good news. I’m going to give you a celebration hug. So three more months.
Dr. Politoske: Yup, three more months.
Debbie: I can do it.
Dr. Politoske: I know.