Young Hardin County man reclaims his life with mechanical heart pump

The implant’s support for his heart has allowed DeAndr’e Gaines to improve his overall health. He has advice for others who are struggling with heart failure.

DeAndr’e Gaines has lived most of his adult life with heart failure. Now at only 42 years old, the father of four is reclaiming life with a left ventricular assist device (LVAD).

In his late 20s, DeAndr’e was diagnosed with nonischemic cardiomyopathy, a condition that deteriorated his heart muscle. At that time in his life he had two young children, and was exhausted trying to work a full-time job in a factory and keep up with his kids.

DeAndr’e continued working with his cardiologist in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, for 13 years, but his heart failure continued to worsen. In 2020, he was coughing up fluid, his legs were swollen and he was having a very hard time simply breathing. When he was admitted to Norton Hospital, physicians found his heart was functioning at about 20% of capacity and that the medication that had kept him alive so far had worn his body down to the point of kidney failure.

Heart failure team brings new approach

The specialists with the Norton Heart & Vascular Institute Advanced Heart Failure & Recovery Program quickly went to work evaluating DeAndr’e and his condition and putting together a customized care plan.

“I met DeAndr’e for the first time while he was in the hospital in August 2020 and instantly had a connection and established a strong rapport with him,” said Kimberly M. Vessels, APRN, a nurse practitioner and LVAD coordinator with the Advanced Heart Failure & Recovery Program. “I explained to him how we would use milrinone, a heart-failure medication, and if it worked, he would see a significant change in his health quickly. But remaining on the medication for an extended period could increase his risk of complications, so a transition to LVAD was recommended.”

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The care team set DeAndr’e up on the IV medication, and he was able to go home within a few days. Since his heart was responding to the medication, the team knew based on clinical evidence that he would be a good candidate for the LVAD.

“This was a huge turning point, and it saved my life,” DeAndr’e said. “Meeting this team of specialists and working with them was a game-changer for me and my family.”

VAD implanted and life has changed

DeAndr’e received his LVAD implant Dec. 2, 2020. DeAndr’e was the first patient to be implanted with a ventricular assist device (VAD) at Norton Audubon Hospital under the newly established Norton Heart & Vascular Institute Mechanical Circulatory Support Program led by Bassel Alkhalil, M.D., heart failure cardiologist and medical director of the program. 

An LVAD is a mechanical heart pump that is implanted inside the left ventricle of a weakened heart to help it pump blood throughout the body. The device does not replace the heart, but helps the heart pump blood more effectively.

After a weeklong stay at Norton Audubon Hospital, DeAndr’e went home. His VAD comes with a portable, rechargeable battery pack for when he is on the go, and a plug-in power pack for when he is home for extended periods of time.

“It has been a transition, learning to charge my battery pack and taking a backup with me everywhere I go, but the benefits of being able to go and do everyday activities with my wife and younger twin children is worth it,” DeAndr’e said.

While the VAD is supporting his heart, DeAndr’e is working to improve his overall health. He exercises, enjoys cooking healthy meals for his family and spending time with his mother. He can live a long life on the VAD; however, he hopes he can work toward being eligible for a heart transplant in the next few years. Through an ongoing collaboration between Norton Heart & Vascular Institute and UK HealthCare’s Gill Heart & Vascular Institute, patients can receive a transplant at the Lexington hospital and return home for follow up evaluation and continued medical support.

DeAndr’e would encourage others experiencing heart failure who are considering an LVAD to “take that next step; don’t give up.”

According to DeAndr’e, it was overwhelming coming to terms with a future where he’d always need access to electricity, but it is manageable.

“There is a life with LVAD,” he said. “I’m proof of that, and I’m living a much better life now with the LVAD than I did for the 13 years leading up to it.”

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