Ever since suffering a massive heart attack at the age of 29, 60-year-old John Pesavento has had his heart on his mind. At that time, doctors performed an emergency double-bypass which was not a common procedure in 1985. Even though his heart was severely damaged, John still managed to remain active – playing basketball, racquetball, softball and golf over the years.
Then in 2002, doctors implanted a pacemaker and defibrillator as a precaution. Fast forward to 2011 when John developed an arrhythmia called ventricular tachycardia, or v-tach, a condition in which the lower chambers of the heart beat very quickly.
“The defibrillator saved my life from v-tach more than 20 times over the next four years. “I felt like a walking time bomb,” John recalled. “I retired from my job. My wife and I felt like we couldn’t go anywhere, even out to a restaurant, without feeling as if I might receive a shock from the defibrillator at any time. It was an awful way to live.”
In May 2015, John began having trouble breathing – he was admitted to Yale New Haven Hospital and diagnosed with pulmonary edema, a condition caused by excess fluid in the lungs, again stemming from heart disease. John’s physicians recommended a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) for him. An LVAD - a surgically implanted, battery-operated pump which helps the left ventricle pump blood to the rest of the body - is often considered a “bridge to transplant” as it prolongs survival and helps improve the quality of life by strengthening the heart.
“Once a patient reaches a stage of advanced heart failure where their heart is no longer able to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs, we often recommend LVAD implant surgery, which was the best option for John,” explained Daniel Jacoby, MD, Director, Advanced Heart Failure and Cardiomyopathy.
“I was hesitant at first, but I quickly realized that the LVAD was the best thing for me. It actually saved my life by making me strong enough to have a successful heart transplant,” explained John.
After eight months of living with the LVAD and more than 100 days in the hospital throughout the year, the call came on a Sunday morning – February 14, 2016 – Valentine’s Day. A donor heart was available and John was prepped for transplant surgery at Yale New Haven Hospital that evening.
“We know that available hearts come about only because another family has suffered a loss,” said Pramod Bonde, MD, cardiac surgeon who performed John’s heart transplant. “When hearts become available and we are able to save a life, we have to act very quickly. It is because of the thoughtfulness of the donor that we are able to give a new heart to Mr. Pesavento and we encourage others to consider the gift of life when possible.”
The surgery went well and the heart was a perfect match. “Since my heart transplant, I feel like a new person,” said John. “My family and I are able to have a normal life again – I can do more and go out and about without fear. Now, I don’t let anything hold me back!”
“We are so grateful to the donor and the donor’s family, Dr. Bonde, Dr. Jacoby and countless others on the YNHH team that helped give me my life back. Now, Valentine’s Day has a whole new meaning for my wife and me!”