Mike Hayshem gently places his hand over his heart and soon begins to smile. “I can feel it beating,” he says of the transplanted organ while recovering at the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Strong Memorial Hospital.
The 41-year-old man received a new heart March 21. And the steady rhythm in his chest “is simply amazing.” Heysham returned to his home in Marcy, near Utica, today.
It’s a welcome sensation for Heysham, because four years ago he had a heart pump, or ventricular assist device, implanted in his chest to keep his heart beating and he couldn’t feel a heart beat or pulse. H. Todd Massey, M.D., URMC cardiac transplant surgeon, performed the life-saving transplant.
URMC’s Program in Heart Failure and Transplantation is the only center in upstate New York to perform heart transplants and is a leader in the use of ventricular assist devices (VADs).
“It’s been a really long time coming and we’re really so happy that he’ll be coming home soon,” said Carlie Heysham, his wife. “Mike is the type of person who is always willing to help anyone who needs it and now he’s been given some help – a second chance – and we’re all so blessed.”
Heysham has been treated for viral cardiomyopathy since he was 20.
“I had just driven back from Florida and I didn’t feel good. I was really pale and my parents took me to the hospital and they said I had an enlarged heart,” said the father of four. “I had no idea it was so serious.”
For more than 10 years medications kept the disease in check. However, the heart failure progressed and four years ago he came to Rochester seeking the heart pump, or VAD.
A VAD can be used as a bridge to transplant, giving the patient more time to wait until a donor heart becomes available, though some patients have a VAD for years when a heart transplant isn’t an option.
“He was very sick when he came here and the VAD was a good choice for him,” said cardiologist Jeffrey Alexis, M.D., an expert in heart failure care. “We’re seeing people living with VADs longer than before and for Mr. Heysham, it was a great benefit.”
Heysham was placed on the waiting list for a new heart in May 2, 2008. He joined more than 3,100 people in our country who need new hearts. URMC has 32 people on its heart transplant waiting list. Last year, there were just 2,300 heart transplant performed in the U.S. There is a serious shortage of donor organs in the country and some patients wait for years for an organ.
Mrs. Heysham won’t forget the moment doctors called to say they had a heart. It was early in the morning, before anyone was up for the day, when the phone rang and “Mike answered and immediately started snapping his fingers for me to get ready. You think about it happening and you’re ready, but you’re never really prepared for that moment.”
She gathered their bags and called grandparents to come stay with the children and they were on the road by 5:30. “I don’t even remember the drive down the Thruway,” Heysham said of the nearly three-hour trip from Marcy to Rochester.
His wife was excited and nervous about what lay ahead – several hours of a testing to ensure he was healthy enough for the transplant surgery – and then at about 5:30 p.m., he was taken to the operating room. Massey first removed the VAD before transplanting the donor heart during the 12-hour surgery.
As she waited, Mrs. Heysham thought about the family who lost a loved one and chose to donate the heart. “You can understand the loss that they’re going through because it’s in the back of your mind every day as you wait. We’ll always be grateful for their decision,” she said.
As Heysham recovered, he enjoyed daily visits from his father, who stayed at Harbor House, a home-away-from-home for heart transplant patients and families. “We are so grateful for Dr. Eugene Storozynsky and the rest of the team that helped” the Heysham family with accommodations, he said.
Heysham looks forward to returning home to enjoy the often chaotic life of raising four children – Andrew, 18, Brianna, 14, Cylee, 3 and Michael Jr., 20 months. “He’ll be able to see his children grow up and that is going to be wonderful for all of us,” Mrs. Heysham said.