Mayra R NBI Patient Becomes the Longest-Living NJ Resident with an LVAD

Mayra Rodriguez’s mechanical heart pump was supposed to give her five years. Fourteen years later, she’s become the longest-living LVAD patient in New Jersey.

Video en español: Paciente de Newark Beth Israel Celebra 14 Anos Viviendo con LVAD

Mayra showing the LVAD deviceWhen Union County resident Mayra Rodriguez, just 26 at the time, was diagnosed with Stage 3 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma back in 2005, she knew she had a long, hard road ahead of her. What she could not have imagined, however, is that cancer would not be her most formidable opponent and that beating cancer after three years would not be her hardest-won battle.

Though Rodriguez survived non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the chemotherapy that had helped put her cancer in remission had also severely damaged her heart. In 2007, after giving birth to her son, Gabriel, she was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy.

The following year, Rodriguez, a native of Costa Rica, began suffering from painful swelling in her limbs. She came to Newark Beth Israel Medical Center (NBI), where doctors quickly realized that the 29-year-old mother was in heart failure, a condition in which the heart doesn’t pump well enough to provide sufficient oxygen throughout the body. “I remember the nurse telling me that I was in very bad shape,” she recalls. “I just wanted to get home to my baby, but the nurse said, ‘If you leave this hospital, your baby will not have a mother.’”

In the days that followed, Rodriguez went into cardiac arrest and had bleeding in her lungs.

It looked as if she needed a new heart—but, because of her battle with cancer, she was medically ineligible for a transplant. So, doctors saw only one option: a mechanical heart pump called a left ventricular assist device, or LVAD, which is implanted during open heart surgery and helps the left chamber of the heart pump blood to the aorta and throughout the body.

As serious as her situation was, it turned out that Rodriguez had come to the right place—NBI was the only hospital in New Jersey that had access to the HeartMate II, the most advanced LVAD at the time.

The HeartMate II was originally designed as a bridge-to-transplant option—it was meant to keep people alive while they awaited a heart transplant— but was then in clinical trials for use as destination therapy for people not eligible for a heart transplant. (In 2010, the Food and Drug Administration approved it for that use.)

Margarita Camacho, MD
Margarita Camacho, MD

“We were hoping for five years,” says Margarita Camacho, MD, Surgical Director, Cardiac Transplantation, Newark Beth Israel, RWJBH Medical Group, who performed Rodriguez’s surgery and implanted the device in May, 2008.

Instead, in May of this year, Rodriguez celebrated her 14th year living with her HeartMate II LVAD, making her the longest-living person in New Jersey with an LVAD—and one of the longest-living LVAD patients in the country. In fact, just 40 people in the United States have lived more than 14 years with the device.

Rodriguez has nothing but accolades for Dr. Camacho and the Advanced Heart Failure Treatment and Transplant Team at NBI. “I am so thankful for them,” she says, noting how grateful she is and how fortunate she feels to be here today and to have spent the last 14 years with her family—including her baby, Gabriel, now a teenager.

Dr. Camacho is happy to see Rodriguez living her life to the fullest. “She goes to the gym regularly, she’s been to the Grand Canyon,” says Dr. Camacho. “She has that joie de vivre because she’s been given such an important second chance.”

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