On the road to recovery

Swift Current resident Sammy Khalife is continuing rehabilitation in Edmonton after surgery to receive a left ventricular assist device (LVAD).

A Swift Current resident is continuing to share his personal journey to receive a new heart as a way to raise awareness about the importance of organ and tissue donation.

Sammy Khalife spoke to the Prairie Post on June 27 from the Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute in Edmonton, shortly before he was discharged.

He has been a patient there since May, and he will remain in Edmonton for the next three months for rehabilitation after his surgery to receive a left ventricular assist device (LVAD).

“I want to encourage people to become organ donors so that the wait would come less,” he said. “Everything I'm doing about organ donation is to bring attention to the issue of the wait list.”

He suffers from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a heart disease that causes thickening of the heart muscle and makes it harder for the heart to pump blood.

He has been waiting for a heart since last year and was submitted to hospital numerous times due to his failing heart. He was hoping a donor heart will become available before it became necessary to look at alternatives, but in early May he faced the option of receiving a LVAD or staying in ICU until a heart became available.

He decided to take the risk of surgery to implant a LVAD, which is a battery-operated mechanical pump that helps to pump blood to the rest of the recipient’s body.

“This was the last option before transplant,” he explained. “My heart was failing, but also my other organs, and they wanted to save my other organs. So I wanted to take the risk and put the LVAD.”

He can only be a future candidate for a donor heart if his other organs are healthy, and the LVAD will improve his quality of life and provide proper blood flow to other organs.

“My liver and my kidney were failing, and they're not anymore,” he said.

The surgery took place on May 16 and was successful, but he received a physical setback after suffering a stroke during the procedure. Afterwards he was unable to speak and he had limited movement in his right-side arm and leg, but through rehabilitation he is recovering well.

“My recovery wasn't easy, but I'm going through it,” he said. “Two weeks ago, I wasn't able to move my right leg and my arm, but now I do, and I wasn't able to talk. Now I do talk. They hope for full recovery of my stroke. … I'm able to walk. I'm able to carry little things. With rehab everything is possible.”

He is also learning to live with the LVAD, which consists of a pump and driveline that connects the device to the batteries, as well as a controller.

“It's not easy to be on this device,” he said. “There is a battery and a connection and it might get infected any time. So there is more risk.”

After the implant of this device it is now normal for him not to have a pulse or his pulse may be difficult to feel. His blood pressure may also be difficult to hear due to narrow pulse pressure. He has a set of instructions that must be followed by medical staff if he needs any future medical treatment, for example due to the presence of the LVAD any chest compressions may pose a risk to the device and no magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans are allowed.

While the device will improve his quality of life due to the effective operation of the pump to provide blood to his body, it will impact his mobility and lifestyle.

“I can't swim anymore,” he laughed. “I can't run with it. The device is inserted in my heart, but the batteries are outside and it's heavy. But I'm still alive and still can walk, and that will be OK.”

One of the requirements after receiving the LVAD is that a family member must stay with him, which is a challenge. His family has to travel from Lebanon to be with him. His sister is currently with him, but he is grateful for the support he has received from Swift Current residents.

“So many people from Swift Current are willing to travel and stay with me as well,” he said. “I can't say enough about the support I get from them.”

He is still looking forward to receiving a heart transplant. As a result of the LVAD surgery he will only be back on the transplant list after six months of recovery. Due to his health condition he has not been able to work since last year, and ongoing fundraising takes place in Swift Current to help him during this time. He appreciates any support from people, but even more important to him is to receive their prayers.

“I just want to ask people to pray for me and continue to support my cause,” he said. “Their prayer can go a long way. So I trust in their prayer.”

The GoFundMe page that was set up for him is called Sammy's Heart Transplant Journey and the website link is www.gofundme.com/sammy039s-heart-transplant-journey. Information about fundraising efforts to support him and updates on his recovery are also provided on the Facebook page Help A Heart Fundraiser (@helpaheartfundraiser).

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