Sharon Gillon might not be test-driving cars anymore, as she did during her career with Chrysler Corporation, but the 73-year-old is raring to go after having a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) implanted in 2013. Sharon says the device has made a remarkable difference in her quality of life, which she now realizes began to decline nearly 15 years ago.
“I noticed some breathing issues in 2000 or possibly even before that, but I didn’t realize anything was wrong,” she says.
Sharon’s health continued to decline for the next few years when she was diagnosed with an arrhythmia, which led to a pacemaker, followed by a pacemaker/defibrillator.
When her breathing worsened and required hospitalization, Sharon’s doctors recommended she be taken by ambulance to the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center. After extensive testing, the CVC team, led by Dr. Francis Pagani, determined that Sharon’s failing heart could be strengthened with the assistance of an LVAD.
How an LVAD works
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 computer, called the controller, which runs the pump.
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.
Determination and strength
Despite her age, Sharon’s willpower made her a good candidate for the LVAD procedure. “I told Dr. Pagani that I drove cars, did mechanical work on them and rode horses,” says Sharon, which convinced him that she was strong and determined enough to undergo the surgery.
Following her surgery, Sharon says: “I got better and better every day. After six months, I was feeling better than I had felt in years. I can go out with my husband or even alone, and I have with lunch friends. I feel 10 times better than I felt back then.
“Dr. Pagani and his team brought me through all this. I’m grateful they found my heart problem and fixed it as much as possible. As long as I feel like this, I can go on for a long time.”
Take the next step:
- Read about other U-M LVAD patient experiences.
- LVAD patient Scott Reid shares his story.
- To make an appointment to discuss your need for an LVAD or other vetricular assist device, call 888-287-1082 or email at CVCCallCtr@med.umich.edu.
The 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.