Published on October 10, 2016

Patients first: The motto gave a man his life back

Bryon Carter’s heart had been failing for a while.

Most days he was so weak that he could only take two or three steps before having to rest.

Bryon CarterHe couldn’t breathe if he lay down, so for years he slept sitting up in a chair. He was hospitalized many times.

“I was feeling so bad,” Bryon recalls. So bad that his doctor feared Bryon was giving up.

“His statement to me was, ‘I’m just sitting here’,” says David Addley, DO, FACC, cardiologist at Mercy Philadelphia. “That’s what he felt his life was. ‘I’m just sitting here’.”

Bryon asked Dr. Addley to write DNR—do not resuscitate—on his medical chart. If Bryon had a heart attack or other crisis, he didn’t want to be saved.

Dr. Addley did the only thing he could do. He called the heart failure team at a different hospital to see if they could help. After he got off the phone, he went back to Bryon and said, “I think there’s more that can be done.” Bryon was a candidate for something called a left ventricular assist device (LVAD).

‘The only thing that could save me’

An LVAD is a mechanical pump that’s implanted in the chest. Two tubes are attached to the pump. One is inserted into the heart’s left ventricle. The other goes into the aorta. The pump moves blood out of the left ventricle, up through the aorta and out to the rest of the body.

A cable attached to the pump is threaded through a hole in the abdomen and connected to an external control unit powered by two batteries. The control unit and batteries are worn like a belt and suspenders.

The surgery to insert the LVAD would be difficult. Bryon would have to transfer to another hospital. And he’d have to wear the device until he could have a heart transplant.

“Anything that could help me, I was willing to go with,” Bryon says. “And the LVAD was the only thing that could save me.”

Tears—and lots of smiles

Bryon had the surgery April 7. On June 21, he walked into Dr. Addley’s office.

“To see him walk into my office, I was almost in tears,” Dr. Addley says. “I didn’t want him to give up, and now to have him walk through the front door to my office was just phenomenal.”

How is Bryon’s life now?

“I feel excellent,” he says. “Yes, I do. I can go all day now. I can walk down the street. I can wave and talk to people. This is a miracle, if you ask me.”

Does it bother him that Dr. Addley reached out to other doctors at another hospital for help?

“I had no problem with that,” Bryon says. “Everybody doesn’t know it all.”

“Yes, this was and still is a Mercy patient,” Dr. Addley says. “But we can’t do everything. We have to understand our limits. It’s for the good of the patient. When I feel we’ve offered all that we can, we have to feel comfortable and humble enough to ask for help from other institutions.”

And it was humbling, Dr. Addley says, when Bryon thanked him for everything.

“I said, ‘Well, I didn’t do this’.”

And he said, ‘But you got me there, Dr. Addley’.”

Other options for heart failure

While a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) can work wonders for a person with advanced heart failure, like Bryon Carter, an LVAD is not a first-line treatment for the disease. Doctors typically first recommend:

Lifestyle changes. A healthy diet and doctor-approved exercise can aid your heart and your overall health. “Quitting smoking is an absolute must as well,” says Dr. Addley.

Medications. These work to improve heart failure in different ways by:

  • Reducing strain on the heart
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Helping the heart pump more strongly

“We usually treat heart failure with one or more daily medications,” Dr. Addley notes. “It’s important to take them just as your doctor prescribes. Otherwise, your medicine might not be effective.”

Implantable devices. An implantable defibrillator can detect and correct a lethal heart rhythm. And a pacemaker can help the heart contract regularly.

Treating underlying problems. This might mean repairing a faulty heart valve or reopening blocked arteries that are contributing to heart failure.

“With newer and better treatments, patients with heart failure can have a better quality of life than ever before,” Dr. Addley says.