Beat goes on for Monee heart patient, his lifeline now toted in a backpack
By Mike Nolan firstname.lastname@example.org September 13, 2012 4:40PM
Leroy Haynes, Monee, gets wheeled into a press conference at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, IL on Thursday September 13, 2012. The 64 year old retired postal carrier leaves Advocate Christ Medical Center after becoming the first patient in Illinois to receive a completely artificial heart. It is seen as a temporary measure until a donor heart can be secured. He was in the hospital for 169 days. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 15, 2012 9:53AM
While some people may wear their heart on their sleeve, Leroy Haynes keeps his in a backpack.
On Thursday, the retired letter carrier from Monee became the first person in Illinois to leave the hospital with a totally artificial heart beating in his chest. As he and his wife, Pat, walked out of Advocate Christ Medical Center, he also gave hope to others like him waiting for a donor heart.
“My journey may not be ended yet, but I’ve come a long way,” the 64-year-old Haynes told a roomful of doctors and nurses at the Oak Lawn hospital who had a hand in getting him this far.
A portable pump — weighing 13-1/2 pounds and stowed in a silver-and-gray backpack — forces air into the artificial heart’s chambers, pushing blood through Haynes’ circulatory system. The device is still being evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for possible wider use.
Currently, virtually all patients who get an artificial heart are tethered to a 400-pound-plus device hospital staff refer to as “Big Blue,” and they’re unable to leave the hospital, said Dr. Geetha Bhat, medical director of the heart transplant and device program at Christ.
“His success (with the portable pump) will be important,” she said.
What’s actually inside his chest is fairly old school, by medical technology standards, but it’s the portable pneumatic pump that represents the major advance, and allows Haynes to go home, said Dr. Michael Bresticker, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Christ.
Haynes already had a battery-powered pump in his body helping his weak heart, and he becomes the first person in the U.S. to have an existing mechanical pump removed and replaced with a completely artificial heart, Bresticker said.
Typically, the pump Haynes had inside him the last two years would be sufficient to tide him over until a donor heart became available, but Haynes’ heart was deteriorating rapidly, Bresticker said.
The artificial heart, however, isn’t permanent, although patients on waiting lists for donor hearts “have gone several years” using them, Bresticker said.
Haynes had the heart implanted in early May, but before that happened, doctors laid out options to him and his wife, Pat, a home health care nurse. At Thursday’s news conference at the hospital, she said she gathered her daughter, also a nurse, and her son and they talked and prayed for guidance.
“When we considered everything, we decided to go with this option,” she said. “It’s a new way of living but we’re prepared for that. We’re going to make it a quality life regardless of the obstacles that are in our way.”
Her husband, who retired from the postal service in 2007, said his new heart “feels different, but I’m alive.”
The couple recently celebrated their 42nd anniversary at the hospital, but before they left Thursday they were presented with a gift certificate at a Chicago restaurant to celebrate properly.
Bhat said Haynes remains on the list of people awaiting a donor heart, noting Christ has “a fairly large number” of people on that list. The hospital performed 16 heart transplants last year, she said.
“This (artificial heart) is a bridge to a heart transplant,” she said.
Haynes and his family understand that, but realize he wouldn’t be going home if not for the surgery and new technology.
“There’s a spirit about this place (Christ) that encourages you and won’t let you fail,” he said.