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Patient Story: Gail and Terry, Mechanical Heart

My husband had no other option…we were going to lose him.

Terry and Gail knew something was wrong. Married only three years, they started noticing that Terry was not as active as he once was, because of congestive heart failure.

“Things started changing very quickly – we noticed he was really failing, he was short-of-breath and sleeping a lot,” said Gail. “I graduated from nursing at the Brigham and was a cardiac nurse there…I knew something was wrong.”

Referral to Brigham and Women’s

Terry’s doctors at Maine Medical Center referred him to the Advanced Heart Disease Program at Brigham and Women’s.

As it had been suspected, Terry’s heart had begun to fail. The next step was for him to receive a full evaluation to see if he was a candidate for transplantation.

“We went to the Clinic and got the ball rolling and went down to the Brigham,” said Gail. “The tests showed that Terry had increased pressure on his lungs and that made him an unsuitable candidate for transplant.”

The Only Option – a “Mechanical Heart”

With transplantation no longer an option, doctors suggested the possibility of an internal mechanical heart, called a left ventricular assist device or LVAD.

Most often LVADs are used as a bridge to transplantation. For patients like Terry, who have medical conditions that prohibit transplantation, Brigham and Women’s was able to offer the only LVAD approved by the Food and Drug Administration for destination therapy – meaning it could be a permanent solution.

Gail and Terry met with not only the doctors but a psychiatrist and social workers to discuss the surgery and what life would be like living with an LVAD. “Everybody we met with really helped us to understand what was going to be happening, our feelings, and answer all of our questions,” said Gail.

“They told him that he had no other choice, that he was on his way to dying,” she said. “Terry was very receptive to the idea. I sort of knew what he was facing and that it’s not a simple road but he was game to go.”

Surgery and Recovery

The time came for surgery.

“I felt very comfortable, I didn’t fear this,” recalled Gail. “I believed in the doctors and I’ve always believed in Brigham and Women’s. I felt my husband was in the best hands he could ever have.”

During the weeks of his recovery and far from their Maine home, Gail and Terry found great comfort from being able to stay together in the hospital room.

“It was wonderful to be able to stay with Terry and it certainly helped me along the way to learn from the nurses how to care for him,” said Gail. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a large group on a team… there were so many people working with us to get him back on his feet again.”

Back Home in Maine

Terry’s back to his old ways.

“He’s now doing all the things he loves,” said Gail. “He’s torn up two bathrooms and replacing everything.” And Terry also has done one thing he’s always wanted to do. Gail said, “Now that he’s feeling young again, he had to have a new toy. He bought himself an antique Corvette.”

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Patient Story Video: Gail and Terry

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