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Wow What a Ride! One Year We Will Never Forget

Manreet Kanwar, MD
Allegheny General Hospital
Pittsburgh, PA, USA

Jeffrey Chambers
Transplant Recipient

Those who have driven a motorcycle on a winding road know not only the thrill, but also the anxiety it brings. If you happen to go into a curve too hard, you become panicked that you aren't going to make it through without crashing and are relieved when you make it out alive.

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The past year has been a ride like no other. November 10, 2014 marks the one year anniversary of my heart attack. A year ago, life was flying by at full throttle; then came the curve that changed my world. I remember some of that Sunday evening's events. I still thought it was a minor heartburn but when I was told I had a heart attack, things spiraled out of control. At 51 years old the last thing a person thinks of is a massive heart attack, let alone a stroke.

I will never forget the day Jeffrey was life-flighted to our ICU in critical condition after failure to wean from bypass surgery. He arrived in a flurry of ventricular ectopy, with an open chest, VA-ECMO in place, having suffered from an acute CVA - all within hours of presentation. A tall man, he was dwarfed by the machines that surrounded him- all serving a critical purpose: keeping the blood flowing. I said hello to him, trying to give him a reassuring smile and he blinked in response. Then a single tear rolled down his eye as he tried to take it all in...

I have gone through a lot...massive heart attack, triple bypass, a stroke, a life flight helicopter ride, having my chest left open for one week, a defibrillator placed in my chest, being shocked in the chest many times, x-Rays, MRIs, heart catheterizations, EKGS...

It became quickly apparent that we would be unable to wean him from ECMO support without a durable pump as his entire left ventricle had infarcted. But an implanted pump in someone we had never met before, with an active stroke and no way of getting a truly informed consent? We turned to his wife and family to try to get to know him better. They told us he worked full time, never smoked or abused his health and just...loves life! Cherie (his wife), then pulled out a picture taken a fortnight ago - Jeff with his Mustang, on a road trip with his brothers.

Just think, while I was on this ride, my wife, Cherie, was there too, to be part of things and to have some her own experiences. This has made her a very strong person. She had to deal with so many emotions, the up and down; she was not sure that I was going to survive. Aside from emotional rollercoaster, she had had to spend weeks away from home, drive everywhere, change countless bandages, make appointments, go to appointments with me, continue to work, and still keep everyone informed of things. Today, I am sure that without her I would not have survived long.

Almost against our better judgment, with every fact pointing 'INTERMACS level - crash and burn', we proceeded with a durable LVAD placement. Jeff was extubated 3 days later, started physical therapy soon after and fully recovered from his stroke in the weeks to follow. He was listed for a cardiac transplant and received his gift a few months later.

At every turn there have been people that I will never forget. Each one has been in place to serve a purpose. I cannot forget about the one individual, someone I know nothing about but is the most close to me every moment: my heart donor. Without the gift of their heart I would not be here today. It still amazes me that someone else's heart is inside of my chest and without it I would be dead instantly. Though I have never had the opportunity to meet my donor's family, I still hope that they might still make contact.

Jeff was back to work part time in 6 weeks and then full time by 3 months post-transplant. He continues to amaze us with his passion for life and his desire to give back.

On the one year anniversary of these events I will be carefully removing the many cards sent to me to wish me wellness and encouragement. I still look at how many there are and think of how lucky I am to have that many people who care about me. I must thank everyone for being there. I must thank God for his mercy to give me the opportunity to remain on this earth. I have become active in several organizations that I believe are worthy of my time. I solicited money this summer for the American Heart Association's walk. Let it be known that due to everyone's generosity, I was the top fundraiser. Another group I am involved in is CORE. CORE is one of 58 federally designated not-for-profit organ procurement organizations (OPOs) in the United States. If anyone reading this is not a donor, please become one. Remember that without a donor I would be no longer here.

In closing, I look forward to whatever I may find around each corner as I we travel on a trip called "LIFE". With God's guidance and the support of everyone I am sure I can handle just about anything. Just remember, I got through this much in a year and ended up 40 pounds lighter and a have a newer heart. I don't think that was too bad after all.


(JC) Jeffrey Chambers

We look forward to celebrating Jeffrey's one year anniversary early 2015! ■

Disclosure Statement: The author has no conflicts of interest to disclose.

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