Wife of heart transplant patient tells couple’s story

Patient and Family Centered Care Spotlight: Ralph and Bonnie Davis

Bonnie Davis

Bonnie Davis became a Patient and Family Centered Care Advisory Committee member after her husband Ralph received a heart transplant at the University of Michigan.

If you have ever been a patient or caregiver, then you’ve probably been faced with the uncertainty that comes with medical terminology and procedure. In fact, it might have seemed like your doctor barely discussed your surgery with you or didn’t allow time for your family to ask questions about your options. For most patients and family members, this makes the medical process rather intimidating.

Fortunately, healthcare is moving away from this patient-directed approach and shifting toward a patient-centric model. Patient and Family Centered Care (PFCC) is a healthcare approach that works to remove the barriers between medical professional and medical patient by truly valuing the concerns, opinions and voices of patients and their families.

The “Nothing about me, without me” slogan has been recently introduced as the guiding principle for patient-centered care at the University of Michigan, where PFCC programs act as forums for patients and families to share their personal experiences with faculty and staff. Additionally, the University of Michigan Health System has established numerous Patient and Family Advisory Councils (PFACs) throughout hospital departments. Bonnie Davis, on behalf of her husband, Ralph, has served on the U-M Frankel Cardiovascular Center Patient and Family Centered Care Advisory Committee for more than three years. Keep reading to learn about the Davis’ story, as told by Bonnie Davis.

The heart transplant patient journey

My husband Ralph and I share the same story. He remembers very little of it, while I remember everything. (Read the complete version of Ralph and Bonnie’s story here.)

We came to the U-M Frankel Cardiovascular Center to have Ralph evaluated as a possible heart transplant candidate due to a pulmonary embolism, which compromised his heart. We were told he would likely recover and were sent home. He limped along for a couple of weeks and then went over the falls, as I like to put it.

First, his heart failed, followed by his lungs, kidney and liver. He was put onto extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) for 10 days, then went into surgery for a BiVAD implantation. The belief was that if his circulation improved with these implanted ventricular assist devices, then his other organs would recover.

Progress was slow but eventually Ralph started to improve and came home to wait for a new heart.

Then, we got “the call.” It is hard to explain the range of emotions wrapped up in that single announcement that a heart is available. I immediately felt the anguish of the family who felt the loss of a loved one. Then there was the anxiety of the procedure about to occur and wondering if it would be a success.

Ralph’s recovery as a heart transplant patient was nothing short of miraculous. We had been unaware of so many medical advances. I call them modern day medical miracles.

We were lucky to have been at the U-M Frankel Cardiovascular Center, where we availed ourselves of nearly every medical specialty while there. Everyone was so competent in his or her field. But more than that, there was compassion and sharing of information that really made the difference for me.

Getting involved

Ralph Davis

A year to the day after receiving his new heart Ralph Davis swam competitively once again.

The U-M Frankel Cardiovascular Center came to us to ask us to be part of their Michigan Difference campaign. We volunteered to do a television commercial and subsequently found Ralph’s image on highway billboards and posters in the hospital. He still stands proudly in front of the swimming pool in the second floor hall between Taubman Center and University Hospital. Ralph had been a competitive swimmer for many years with Michigan Masters Swimming. A year to the day after receiving his new heart he swam again competitively in his first swim meet with a new heart.

I have been on the U-M Frankel Cardiovascular Center PFCC Advisory Committee for over three years and feel deeply committed to this fundamental value of how care is delivered and received and applaud the Cardiovascular Center for embracing it.

University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center Logo - blueThe University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is the top-ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit the Heart and Vascular page on UofMHealth.org.