(October 28, 2015) I posted a blog on September 11, 2013, telling the story of my friend Anne Boulamakis, in Florence, and her recently implanted heart pump. It was called an LVAD–Left Ventricular Assist Device–and was powered by a battery pack and computer that she had to carry around in a fanny pack all day, and then she had to hook up to larger batteries at night while her day batteries were recharging. (See previous blog, with photos: A Courageous Woman, A Pioneer in Medical Technology, and a Friend) Her life was very limited, tied to the heavy equipment that kept her heart beating (although, without a heartbeat–the LVAD is a spiral pump and created a soft hum, not a heartbeat). As time passed, she grew more and more disillusioned with living on the LVAD pump.
On a trip about a year ago, I visited her in Padua, where she had been hospitalized for tests and an evaluation as a potential candidate for a heart transplant–especially important since she had been implanted with the LVAD for more than two years, which Padua considered “too long.” I must say that she was often in the hospital in Florence for testing, where they were always checking her heart function, with regular lab blood analyses, and eventually chose to be evaluated at Padua, another Italian heart transplantation center several hours away. Finally, she was deemed acceptable as a candidate, placed on the priority list, and her wait began.
When she got “the call,” she was taken by ambulance at high speed all the way to Padua, hours away even at ambulance speed. She arrived, and while she was being admitted and prepared for surgery, the donor heart was determined to be unsuitable for transplant. She spent a couple of days in the hospital for more routine screening tests, as long as she was there, and then was sent home. Just days later, Anne received a second call and she was back in an ambulance on the way to Padua, and immediately received her transplant. She did several months of recovery therapy, and was closely monitored for any rejection, but her new heart has been doing well.
Anne, and her indispensable companion Alain, have been through so much to give Anne a new chance for a thriving life. I have been to visit her a few times now, and am delighted to be able to say that I know a person who has had a successful heart transplant, and is beginning her new life with the generous gift of life from a donor family. (So delighted that she got rid of her LVAD, too!)