Yin versus yang. East versus West. Technology versus theology. Two Fox topics I covered within a single week were at seemingly opposite ends of the health care spectrum. Both were moving. Both made a meaningful difference in peoples lives. Which was better? I was confused…until I started writing the last paragraph of this blog.
Bill Carlson is a 60-year-old man who I met online about a year ago during the weekly Fox chat with viewers. “Shellback,” his screen name, signed in every few weeks with progress updates on his recovery from a heart transplant, and then he always commented on the wonderful care he received at the University of Minnesota. Since April is National Donate Life Month, I invited him to be a guest on Tuesday, April 20. His story was a medical miracle.
Bill’s congestive heart failure symptoms were easily managed on medication for the first several years that he was diagnosed. Then, in early 2008, his cardiac function quickly deteriorated and by September 2008, he was dying. His ejection fraction was 10 percent. He had multi-organ failure, gastrointestinal bleeding and was comatose. His family had decided to withdraw life support, but just in time, Bill stabilized and the University surgeons decided to insert an LVAD-- an implanted mechanical pump that helps the ventricle pump blood throughout the body. If it worked, there was a chance he’d survive the wait for a donor heart.
Bill had a cardiac arrest during the LVAD placement. Unable to regain a heart rhythm, the surgeon found the family in the waiting room and told them the bad news: “I am so sorry. We lost Bill on the table.” He sat with the Bill’s wife and daughters for a bit then went back into the operating room to finish up. But, he came back twenty minutes later and said, “Don’t go too far. He’s alive again.”
For the next nine months, Bill changed his LVAD batteries every four hours, and on June 7, 2009, his cell phone rang. A young man in Pittsburgh had just died. Then next day, Shellback got a new heart.
If Bill had end stage heart failure just five years earlier, he’d wouldn’t be alive. Technology had defied death. This was the yin. Health….from the outside in.