LVAD patient gives extra thanks this year

Cara Reischel feels blessed to be able to watch her daughter grow up

Cara Family Photo blog

Cara Reischel is giving extra thanks this holiday season … for her husband, Joel, daughter, Cora, and her improved health due to a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) that was implanted in February at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center.

Although she admits that being an LVAD patient and getting accustomed to her new device hasn’t always been easy, Cara is a firm believer in taking one day at a time and being thankful for all that life has to offer, especially time with Joel and 11-year-old Cora.

As a baby, Cara was diagnosed with a hole in her heart, which doctors monitored closely. It wasn’t until Cara suffered sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) at age 15 that doctors changed her diagnosis to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). HCM is a congenital heart muscle disease that can affect people of any age and is a common cause of SCA in young people. Approximately one in 500 to 1,000 young people are diagnosed with the condition.

More about HCM

HCM occurs when heart muscle cells enlarge and cause the walls of the heart’s left ventricle to become abnormally thickened (hypertrophy). The structural abnormality can lead to obstruction of blood flow from the heart, causing loss of consciousness and irregular heartbeat, leading to SCA.

The U-M Frankel CVC is one of only 14 clinics in the country specializing in the treatment of this challenging disorder, offering a multidisciplinary approach that is both comprehensive in diagnosis and treatment, and individualized for every patient.

Ongoing health concerns

Cara had no outward signs of the disease when she suffered cardiac arrest on December 23 during high school class exchange. Fortunately, a security guard administered CPR, which got her to a hospital for the critical care she needed. There, Cara was put on medication, recuperated and was soon able to return to school.

It wasn’t until 2007, at age 38, that Cara’s HCM condition required a pacemaker, followed by a pacemaker/defibrillator. Then, two years ago, while living in South Carolina, Cara’s health began to further decline. Her doctor recommended she move back to Michigan to be treated at U-M. Cara and her family followed her doctor’s recommendation and Cara was implanted with an LVAD by the U-M Frankel CVC team led by Dr. Francis Pagani.

How LVADs work

LVADs work by pumping blood from the left ventricle (lower part of the heart) and moving it forward into the aorta, the main blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. LVADs assist the weakened heart muscle via a pump implanted inside the body. A driveline connects to the pump and exits through a small site in the abdomen. This driveline is connected to a small, portable computer carried on the outer body in a vest or waist pack.

The Frankel CVC LVAD program, one of the world’s largest and most experienced, has successfully implanted more than 600 long-term devices and is one of only a few worldwide with access to many investigational and FDA-approved LVADs.

Adjusting to a new normal

Cara is adjusting to life with her new device, admitting that the first three months were physically daunting, but the care she received at U-M helped her get through it all.

Now living in Michigan and home schooling Cora, Cara is thankful she’s able “to spend every minute of my time with her. My LVAD is helping me do that.”

Take the next step:

Frankel-informal-vertical-sigThe University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is a top-ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit our website at umcvc.org.