U-M LVAD program offers new hope for patients

Jerome Wilson shares his story

The University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center is home to one of the worlds largest and most experienced left ventricular assist device (LVAD) programs. In fact, U-M’s LVAD program has successfully implanted more than 580 long-term devices. The program is one of only a few worldwide with access to many investigational and FDA-approved LVADs.

Jerome Wilson meets with Dr. Todd Koelling.

Jerome Wilson meets with Dr. Todd Koelling.

For most LVAD patients, the procedure provides an opportunity to return to normalcy and to enjoy a better overall quality of life. One such patient is Jerome Wilson, whose heart failure journey began 20 years ago when he found himself unable to walk up a flight of stairs without feeling tired. He was referred to the Frankel Cardiovascular Center a few years ago, where he met Todd Koelling, M.D., a cardiologist who is also the medical director of the Heart Failure and Heart Transplantation Management Program. Dr. Koelling co-manages Jerome’s care with his primary care physician in Lansing. Together they had prescribed medications and a defibrillator to help treat Jerome’s heart failure.

Early last year, Jerome’s condition had deteriorated to the point where a left ventricular assist device might be his best option for improving not only his quality of life, but also his chances for survival. Last May, Francis D. Pagani, M.D., Ph.D., a cardiac surgeon and director of the Center for Circulatory Support, implanted Jerome’s LVAD and he returned home just 13 days after his procedure.

Here is Jerome’s story:

“The only thing wrong with me is my heart — everything else is great. When it came time to talk about getting an LVAD, I knew a little bit about it, but Dr. Koelling explained it to me in depth, including which pump might be best for me. Finding out that I was approved for an LVAD were magic words — exactly what I wanted to hear.

Dr. Pagani performed the procedure in May. After the surgery, they had me on my feet as soon as I woke up. I was able to take five or six steps that day. The next day, I was able to walk into the hallway. Once the blood started flowing through my legs, walking became much easier. I got stronger and stronger. I found out that the shortest amount of time for a patient to stay in the hospital after having an LVAD was 10 days. I was determined to do it in nine days, but ended up staying for 13. As a 61-year-old man, I was able to accomplish this!

Before I could leave the hospital, my wife and I had to be able to take my controller apart and put it back together. We had to understand each alarm and what to do if an alarm went off. We learned how to read the battery life screen and how to tell if the batteries were fully charged. I’m healthy enough now to take showers using a special bag to protect my LVAD. I can also change my own batteries.

I feel like the luckiest man in the world. All of my doctors have been good to me and for me — from with my primary care physician all the way through to the surgical team. Their communication has been great and they really care. The LVAD people have been wonderful, too. It’s almost like another family. I talk to them every week and they’re always available, if necessary. When I do call, the nurses are very responsive as they take me through troubleshooting steps.

My recovery was pretty fast because I’m in really good shape. I’ve been with a physical trainer since I was diagnosed at 42, and I still train with him. He even spoke with the LVAD clinic before I returned to the gym three months ago. My weakness was apparent at first, but my trainer tells me I’m stronger and have more stamina now.

With the LVAD, my lifestyle has changed. I’m carrying this 30-pound object around wherever I go. I can’t just set it down and walk away. I take everything in stride, though.

I’ve been able to put a lot of people at ease because, even though they notice the pump in my chest, they can see that I’m normal. I get around well. My color has come back. I look and feel much healthier. It’s amazing how healthy you can look when blood is flowing through your body the way it should flow!

My wife lets me be as active as I can be, but she also makes sure I’m not overdoing it. I feel like I’ve had the best care any person could have. I feel blessed that I’m still here. If I hadn’t had the LVAD put in when I did, there’s a chance I wouldn’t be here today.”

Take the next step:

  • For more information, call the U-M LVAD team at 800-962-3555.

Frankel-informal-vertical-sigThe 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 our website at umcvc.org.