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U-M LVAD patient lives a full life while awaiting heart transplant

Catching up with LaVishia McDonald about life with a left ventricular assist device

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LaVishia McDonald had already given birth to five children, so when her sixth child was born in 2008, she knew her symptoms and extreme fatigue weren’t normal. “I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t breathe. My legs were swollen. I knew something was very wrong,” she remembers.

When her condition didn’t improve, LaVishia’s primary doctor, who suspected a heart condition, recommended she be seen at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center.

LaVishia was scheduled for an appointment with U-M cardiologist Dr. David Dyke. “He looked at me and knew instantly that something was very wrong,” she says.

Dr. Dyke diagnosed LaVishia with peripartum cardiomyopathy (pregnancy-associated heart failure) and told her she was in need of a heart transplant. Until then, she would need a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) to help her heart pump.

How an LVAD works

An LVAD works 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. The pump, which assists the weakened heart muscle, is 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.

Living a full life

Seven years after receiving her LVAD, the 42-year-old is living a full life. Her children have been involved with her care throughout the years, helping to change the device batteries and even “praying for my LVAD,” LaVishia says. “They know how to do everything involved with it and have even taken pictures of my battery pack for show-and-tell at school,” she says.

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In top photo, LaVishia cheers for her son, Kamron, and his high school basketball team. LaVishia says her family plays a big part in the care of her LVAD.

LaVishia has checkups every two or three months at the CVC, where she is always happy to see her heart team. “They helped me and didn’t give up on me,” she says.

While steroids have resulted in weight gain for LaVishia, she’s determined to get her weight to a healthy number for a transplant. “I’m making a lifestyle change. It’s not a diet. I’m feeling good right now. There’s nothing I can’t do!”

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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.