What is your CardioSmart story?
I’m here today because of the wonderful healing work of my heart doctors. My journey starts over 20 years ago in 1993 when I had two massive heart attacks, which immediately resulted in losing 70% of my heart. I was transported to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and Dr. Hillel Laks and his team repaired my heart with a quintuple bypass. I was code blue twice and was revived after flat-lining for 35 minutes.
Once I began my recovery, I realized that my heart was no better than an old Model A motor. I learned to live with taking at least eight to 10 medications and had an implanted defibrillator. I entered a cardiac rehabilitation program through the hospital and changed my diet completely. For 20 years, my diet was the same day in and day out — fruit, vegetables and fish.
For the first 12 years, I was living against the odds and doing well. The next seven years took a more downward turn. I realized that my heart, my old Model A motor, was getting weaker. My ejection fraction was getting low, and the doctors prescribed more medications to assist my heart and to alleviate the stress on my heart. My new normal blood pressure was 90/70, and my lungs would fill with fluid on a regular basis — which was terrifying at times. I wasn’t able to catch my breath and felt like I was drowning. My ejection fraction dropped to below 20.
As a lifelong career farmer in Fresno, Calif., I was visiting the ranch one day. After 18 years of living well with my medications and implanted defibrillator, my heart stopped. I fell to the ground. No one was around for miles because I was in a rural area. My defibrillator, brilliantly taken care of by Dr. Isaac Wiener, jump-started my Model A heart and brought me back to life! Dr. Wiener was an amazing doctor who perfectly set my device and maintained it through almost 20 years, seven surgeries and seven replacements.
It became obvious that my bodily functions were starting to deteriorate: I could not digest simple foods. I became dizzy. I withdrew from my family and friends. Feeling as though I was nearing the end, I would sit alone in my bedroom, reading the Bible, and asking the Lord to take me every day. My lungs were filling with fluid, my ejection function was around 15, and I would have to go to the emergency room almost on a weekly basis.
After nine emergency calls, Dr. Hillel Laks visited me in the hospital and said I needed a new heart. After several tests and living on machines for weeks, I received the good news that my new heart had arrived. I embraced the transplant surgery with hope and excitement. I looked forward to whatever time my new heart would give me. I went through different phases of recovery, including daily, six-hour dialysis treatments for the first two months after my transplant surgery. Every day I recovered and lived brought me renewed hope and vitality.
I am 76 years “young” and am able to do the same things that I did 40 years ago! I can work 14-hour days (when I want) without the need for a nap. I have no defibrillator, no blood thinners (Coumadin, Lasix) — nothing! I am free from high blood pressure, heart failure, atrial fibrillation and coronary heart disease. I have to take only my rejection medication, cholesterol and blood pressure pills daily, which I do faithfully.
The groundbreaking work of the talented doctors at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center carried me through 23 years (and counting) of a wonderful quality of life. Considering that for 20 years my heart was operating on less than 20% capacity, I was able to live a fulfilling life. Once I received this amazing miracle and blessing of a new heart, I am able to continue to live my life to its fullest potential.
I have been given the best gift of all, a new heart and life, and every day I thank God for this chance and mostly for all the doctors and nursing staff who have taken care of me. I owe everything to and give my utmost appreciation once again to all the staff at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and Cardiovascular Consultants Medical Group of Encino, Calif.
How do you work with your doctors and care team to stay on top of your heart condition?
By following their advice and regular follow-ups.
What lifestyle changes did you make to improve your heart health?
Diet, exercise and stress reduction.