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William P A Stronger Heart

“I’ve been in a lot of hospitals, and the staff at RWJUH is amazing. They really care, and it shows.”

Nearly a decade ago, William Penn, a Somerville teacher’s aide, began to tire easily. Eventually, he was unable to climb a single flight of steps without becoming winded. A trip to a cardiologist revealed that William had dilated cardiomyopathy (a weak heart). He was given oral medications and received an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), a small device that monitors heart rhythm and delivers lifesaving shocks if needed.

By 2018, the oral medications weren’t working and William wasn’t feeling well. “I didn’t have the energy to do anything,” he says. “One day, I went outside to clean the snow off my car and was too tired to go to work afterward.”

A Lifesaving Treatment

William’s exhaustion continued to worsen. One day in November 2018, he woke up and felt like “a limp dishrag.”

He decided to check himself into Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset. His blood pressure was dangerously low, and his kidney and liver function had deteriorated due to a lack of blood supply. He was in cardiogenic shock. William was transferred to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital New Brunswick, where he was evaluated by the Advanced Heart Failure, VAD and Transplant team.

A temporary ventricular assist device (VAD) was implanted through an artery in William’s upper chest. This would pump blood from William’s failing heart to the aorta, the main artery that carries blood to the rest of the body. The hope was that by improving the blood supply to William’s organs, they would recover.

A little more than a week later, William’s kidney and liver function improved enough for the surgeon to implant the HeartMate3 Durable Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD), a mechanical pump that helps the heart pump blood from the left ventricle, the large, muscular chamber of the heart, to the aorta — the body’s main artery — and the rest of the body.

After the procedure, William’s strength gradually returned, and he was able to go home with the device. He had physical therapy at home, then at a rehabilitation center, to improve his strength.

Today, he follows up regularly with Deepa Iyer, MD, Medical Director of the Advanced Heart Failure, VAD and Heart Transplant program, along with her team. “This was a big change in my lifestyle,” he says. “But it’s a small price to pay to be alive.”

William Penn and his care team

“It truly takes a village to care for these very sick patients,” says Dr. Iyer. “We have a team of passionate, experienced and dedicated physicians, surgeons, nurse practitioners, nurse coordinators, medical assistants and pharmacists, as well as a financial advisor, social worker and dietitian, who work very closely with the patient and his or her caregivers to provide medical, financial and social support. There is nothing more rewarding than to see a patient go from being very sick and short of breath to being able to enjoy his or her life.”

Care with Heart

William has done so well and the device has improved his health so dramatically that he is now awaiting a heart transplant. William is thrilled with this news — and with his care. “I’ve been in a lot of hospitals, and the staff at RWJUH is amazing,” he says. “They really care, and it shows.”

William was especially touched by the parting gift he received from the nurses. “They give you a little heart pillow after the surgery,” he says.

“If you cough, you’re supposed to press it against your chest to dull the pain. When I was leaving, the nurses gave me a replica of the pillow with all of their signatures on it. I say that God saved me because there’s something else I have to do. I don’t know what that something is yet, but I’m excited about it.”