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The long road to heart transplant

U-M patient shares the pain and joy

Faces-of-Cardiovascular-Disease

Daniel Silverman has faced death more times that he’d like to think about. But through the years — 21 to be exact — and the many heart-related emergencies he’s experienced, he has never once asked: “Why me?”

This 59-year-old heart transplant patient is especially grateful to be alive today, and is thankful for his heart donor and for the cardiovascular team at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center. But the road to his successful heart transplant has been a long and difficult one.

From the beginning

Daniel’s heart issues were first discovered during a routine physical in 1995. While living in Chicago, the then 39-year-old was diagnosed with premature ventricular contractions (PVCs) or irregular heartbeats. He had no symptoms at the time and was treated with ACE inhibitors to keep his heart beating at a steady rhythm.

Daniel says he stayed healthy until one day in 2005 when he went into sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) during a golf game. “It just so happened that the golf course was right next to a hospital, so I was treated quickly and survived,” he says.

He was referred to an electrophysiologist, who diagnosed Daniel with a more severe arrhythmia than the PVCs he had been experiencing. The doctor recommended an implantable cardiac defibrillator (ICD), a small implanted device designed to treat irregular heartbeats. It was the first of four such devices he would eventually receive.

Daniel remembers his first ICD shock and says, “It was the beginning of a slow downward spiral that I was on for the next eight years,” as he experienced numerous shocks as well as other issues with the devices.

Back in Michigan

When a divorce landed Daniel back in his home state of Michigan in 2012, he was seen at his local hospital, where surgical ablations to treat his arrhythmia were unsuccessful. That’s when he was referred to the U-M Frankel CVC and Dr. Frank Bogun, who diagnosed him with ventricular tachycardia, a rapid heartbeat that arises from improper electrical activity of the heart.

Over the next few years, Daniel’s health deteriorated; his heart muscle could barely move blood through his body. In August 2014, his heart failure became so advanced that he was airlifted to the U-M. After three days of intensive evaluation, it was determined that he would need a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) in order to survive the wait for a heart transplant. Cardiac surgeon Dr. Francis Pagani performed the six-hour LVAD surgery, and Daniel began his long journey to recovery.

Learning to live with an LVAD was life changing, but Daniel was determined to get into the best shape possible to prepare for the heart transplant. “I kept working on my health. I made sure that I did everything I needed to do as a good patient,” he says, noting that he had no fear of the transplant operation. “Considering what I had been through, I knew the surgery wouldn’t be so bad,” he says.

Daniel Silverman retouched blogFB

In top photo, Daniel Silverman dances with his daughter during her 2014 wedding. Today he’s living well with a new heart.

The call

Nine months after receiving his LVAD, on Memorial Day weekend 2015, Daniel received the call from U-M that would change his life once again: “We found a perfect heart for you,” said the voice on the other end of the phone.

After asking the CVC staff (in his usual joking manner) if his Groupon for 50 percent off was still good for the transplant, Daniel says he prayed for the family of his donor, realizing that “on the other end of the equation, someone lost a life.”

A few hours after his five-hour surgery, Daniel says he awoke to see his family at his bedside and felt thankful to be alive. Within 48 hours, the ventilator had been removed and he was sitting up in a chair and ready to take his first walk down the hall.  

Never giving up

“The U-M team’s confidence raised my own confidence level,” says Daniel. “I never felt like I was going to give up.” Through it all, he says the team “made me feel like I was the only person they were caring for. They were all working very hard for me.”

For his part, Daniel is once again committed to being as healthy as possible, participating in cardiac rehabilitation five days a week. He wants to make sure that all he’s been through is not in vain.

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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.