A Diamond is Just a Lump of Coal under Pressure
“Your journey has molded you for your greater good, and it was exactly what it needed to be. Don’t think that you’ve lost time. It took each and every situation you have encountered to bring you to the now, and now is right on time.” ― Asha Tyson
My most recent health struggle has led me to examine the above concept in full. I have come to realize that I have had the most distinct opportunity to meet some extraordinary human beings, from patients, to nurses, to physicians. This journey is not about what I lost. It is all about what I have gained.
I met a gentleman, kind and soft-spoken, with his tender and “this smile is just for you” welcoming me into his space in the world. His eyes told me he had weathered a storm and had come out on the other side appreciating all the moments he was granted, like Dorothy returning home from the Land of Oz. Life has a way of chiseling away at your mind and body and spirit to make you unique and as valuable and as precious as any gold or silver or diamond. There is a saying that goes: “A diamond is just a lump of coal that handled stress exceptionally well.” (source unknown)
I sensed immediately that this man was a diamond.
He was standing next to me in a line of treadmills in a cardiac rehab center and I would see him daily for several weeks. You know those people alongside you when you are at the gym – in line with you on the treadmill – the ones that readily offer a listening ear and an empathetic heart. It seems we always have “our treadmill” too, much like mankind has their supposedly “own church pew.” Woe to anyone who inadvertently takes your treadmill!
His name was Bob.
His story slowly unraveled as we each stepped forward respectively on our treadmills, conversing and distracting each other with our heart stories. Bob was a man that had reached a stage of advanced heart failure where his heart could no longer pump enough blood to meet his body’s needs. He had LVAD (left ventricular assist device) implant surgery.
I had never heard of an LVAD prior to meeting Bob. I could hear a strange pumping whirring noise as he stood beside me. He wore a vest that contained a large battery in each pocket on either side. The batteries looked heavy. He explained that Gary (gentleman next in line on yet another treadmill) told him where to get such a vest, as they were not a readily obtainable purchase yet. Gary knew a website on the internet where a women (whose husband also had a LVAD) sewed them. He was eager to purchase one, but found this vest that held his lifeline, his batteries and all the wires was cumbersome and far too warm to wear during the summer months.
Bob was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, where the heart pumps only a percentage of the blood that the body needs to function and the failure progressively grew worse over time. He further commented that his fatigue and shortness of breath had begun to impact his quality of life. Candidates for the LVAD are those whose heart has deteriorated beyond the best medical management, but whose overall health is strong enough to withstand surgery.
The LVAD became the option of choice for him.
At one time, not that long ago, the only option was a heart transplant. Today, however, there is another option – LVAD – left ventricular assist device. The LVAD is a mechanical device built to sustain the heart, either as a temporary support during surgery or as a complete substitute for its function.
Life after an LVAD seemed overwhelming, let alone, cumbersome. Bob’s specifically modified homemade vest carried the primary battery and the back-up batteries. He had a controller that went around the waist. The sight and soft sounds that surrounded Bob definitely warranted my immediate attention and awe. Bob further explained the surgery was not easy, the recovery was not easy, and he was hoping for something to ease him into a smoother transition.
Gary would come over by us often, mostly to check on Bob. I have heard it said “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.” This was Gary. He possessed not only courage but true strength and a sense of optimism. Gary had shared with Bob that his recent heart transplant was easier than the LVAD implant!
Looking at Gary with his broad shoulders and his physique similar to Hercules, appearing strong and vibrant, you would never guess he was a heart transplant recipient just a few months prior! He had an LVAD, just like Don before he had the heart transplant. He has/had insights, wisdom, tips and treasures for Bob. He had equipment and supplies he no longer needed that Bob really treasured. He was truly a gift and an inspiration to all heart patients.
Looking at the history of cardiovascular surgery, it is truly amazing to look back to 1954 when the first cardiopulmonary by-pass machine emerged. You may recall, as I do, in 1982, when a Seattle dentist named Barney Clark, who also was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, lived 112 days after surgeons implanted an artificial heart in his chest. Although this device was intended to be permanent, the 400-pound air compressor that operated it was undoubtedly an obstacle to anything approaching a normal life.
Almost three decades later, the current LVADs run on10-hour batteries that weigh a pound each and a 2-pound controller- not light, but certainly portable. The LVAD also stores a record of its activity that can be downloaded for review. This device can be implanted for a short time as a bridge to a heart transplant or, as in Don’s case, a long-term alternative to transplant. Don said he was looking forward to his 50th wedding anniversary in three years, as he looked affectionately toward his wife, who came and sat in the chairs in the near-by reception area, reading another paperback novel.
A website known as MY LVAD explains the LVAD in a brief overview as follows:
“An LVAD is a surgically implanted mechanical pump that is attached to the heart. An LVAD is different from an artificial heart. An artificial heart replaces the failing heart completely whereas an LVAD works with the heart to help it pump more blood with less work. It does this by continuously taking blood from the left ventricle and moving it to the aorta, which then delivers oxygen-rich blood throughout the body.
The LVAD has both internal and external components. The actual pump sits on or next to your heart’s left ventricle with a tube attached that routes the blood to your aorta. A cable called a driveline extends from the pump, out through the skin, and connects the pump to a controller and power sources worn outside the body.
The driveline must be connected to the controller, and the controller must be connected to power at all times to keep the pump working properly. The pump is powered by batteries or electricity. Some LVADs have an adaptor that also allows them to run off the car battery. Each device has specific carrying cases to allow you to move about freely with your equipment.”
I just cannot imagine living with an LVAD. Think how much your life would change.
Once your LVAD is implanted, you’ll be connected to the LVAD external controller and power source at all times. Your device will be on battery power whenever you’re active and connected to electrical power when you are sleeping.
You will also need to have an extra controller and fully charged batteries (and power cables if applicable) available at all times as an emergency backup.
You’ll need to be sure to take this backup equipment with you whenever you leave home.
Bob said he was told the first three months would be the worst and he could hardly wait to make it to that point because life had not been going smoothly.
LVAD is constantly improving as the technology is new. LVAD patients have at least an 85% one-year survival rate as compared to advanced heart failure which has a 25 – 50% survival rate. Longer term survival rates of LVAD are not known as it is not known.
Moral of my story – simply, Bob is an amazing man. I am so fortunate to have met so many amazing heart survivors who share their lives, their stories and their inspiration with me.
I am continually amazed, impressed and humbled by the courage and tenacity of the human spirit. It was obvious Bob had learned to manifest many qualities, such as patience, perseverance, adaptability, resilience, faith, optimism, a sense of purpose, tenacity, love, and empathy from a struggle to survive and appreciate our God-given life. People who perfect these qualities in themselves are the true diamonds in this world.
Seek them out and learn from them. Treasure the knowledge.
Bob and so many other heart brothers and sisters have taught me to look at myself and know that I can make choices.
I choose to learn, grow and thrive.
I have learned that no matter what comes my way, I can always find something to be grateful for.
Gratitude is the ultimate resource and appreciation is the gift that keeps on giving!
Savor the moments.
Take care of your heart. ♥