Methodist Healthcare February 11, 2013

Methodist Hospital is hosting the region’s first reunion of patients with ventricular assist devices (VADs), heart pumps that are implanted when the heart is too weak to pump blood on its own.  These individuals, who were advanced-stage heart failure patients, have a lot to celebrate because the VAD implant saved their lives. 

Methodist Hospital is home to the only VAD center in South Texas.  Fifty patients have been invited to the Celebration of Life reunion on Friday, February 22. VADs are used as a bridge-to-transplant device when the heart function improves enough to withstand heart transplant or as destination therapy for lifetime use if patients are not eligible for a transplant because of age or extenuating health reasons.

Once the VAD is implanted into the abdomen and attached to the left, right or both ventricles of the heart, the system is powered by wires leading to external batteries carried in a portable pack.  The batteries are carried outside the body, usually in a shoulder holster, and they are connected to the pump with a cable that goes into the body. When the patient is at home, electricity is used instead of the batteries.  I have attached some photos so you can better understand how the equipment is worn.

What makes this an especially interesting story is how the patients have incorporated the device into their lives.  Though the device may seem cumbersome, the patients who use it are grateful to be alive. Their acceptance and commitment are inspiring.  Their personal stories show how VADs are not only life-saving options for individuals facing heart failure but they greatly improve the patient’s quality of life.  Also, though between 2,000 and 2,500 American receive a heart transplant each year, another 25,000 to 50,000 die waiting for a donor heart. 

Historical Costumes hide VAD battery pack.

Dan Caldwell, 65, received his VAD in May 2012 after two mini-strokes, three heart attacks, three defibrillators and one stent.  When he came to Methodist Hospital, doctors told him that without the VAD, he probably only had about two days to live. He was not a candidate for a heart transplant because of his weight.

 The VAD changed his life—all for the better. “I decided a long time ago that I was not going to let my heart condition control me,” he said.  “I was going to control it.” 

Caldwell loves history and lives it on Saturdays as one of the Bandera Cattle Company Gunfighters.  He also portrays an1800s frontier cavalry colonel during re-enactments at Fort Chadbourne, near San Angelo..  He had a special vest made to carry his VAD batteries which he covers easily with the Victorian-style frock coat that is part of his costume.  “I use a man bag to carry extra batteries and my wall unit and I stay in hotels instead of camping in tents,” he said.  He also had a special bag made for his Harley Davidson Electra Glide that straps to the sissy bar.

“I didn’t know what a VAD was when Dr. Kwan told me about it,” he said.  “It saved my life.”

A more involved dad than ever before

After spending one year with a VAD, Robert Valadez, 36, recently received a heart transplant and is now recovering at home. When he was 17, he experienced a bad case of pneumonia which caused heart damage that affected him throughout his life. A year ago, Robert Valadez, 36, had a bad case of pneumonia at age 17 which caused heart damage that has affected him throughout his life.  A year ago he experienced pain and dehydration and was seen at a local hospital where his gall bladder was removed and he was given fluids.   His condition continued to deteriorate and his liver, kidney and lungs were failing.  He sought help at Methodist Hospital.

“Within minutes of my arrival at Methodist Hospital the doctors there diagnosed the problem,” said Valadez.  “I died three times and was brought back.  Then, my VAD was implanted.

“At the beginning, it was depressing to have to carry around a machine with cable coming out of my stomach,” he said.  “I was so weak from the deterioration of my heart I couldn’t even stand long enough to dress myself.  I had lost close to 70 pounds.   Two to three weeks after I left the hospital, I realized that the doctors knew what they were talking about.  My VAD grew to become a part of me and I was able to be more active than I ever was before.”

While waiting for a heart transplant, the VAD gave Valadez the energy to play with his three sons, ages, 15, 12 and 6 and also is helping foster his three-year-old niece. 

Michael Kwan, M.D., F.A.C.C., medical director of the Heart Failure and Heart Transplant Program at Methodist Hospital, is also available for interviews.

Contact JoAnn King, Director of Public Relations, at 210-575-0171, if you are interested in developing this news story.

If you need more information about the VAD program, contact the Heart Failure and Transplant Clinic:

Heart Failure & Transplant Clinic
Methodist Plaza
4499 Medical Dr., Suite 166
San Antonio, Texas  78229
Phone: (210) 575-8485
Toll Free: (800) 888-0402
View Map