Surgery gives Avella man mechanical heart

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It’s common for men of a certain age to have a change of heart. But Dave Kelso has brought a whole new meaning to the term.


During autumn 2011, Dave Kelso, 75, of Avella, was in-and-out of the hospital every few weeks with symptoms of congestive heart failure. When his wife, Norma Kelso, visited him in the hospital, they told her it was time to get his affairs in order.


“It was so overwhelming,” Norma Kelso said. “So, I said a little prayer and turned it over to God.”


Dave’s prospects didn’t look too promising. His heart was only working at 10 percent, the pacemaker device he had implanted in 2000 was no longer working, any mild activity left him gasping for breath and he was too old to meet the age requirements for a transplant.


On a whim, Norma called a specialist the couple had visited at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh.


“The doctor told us we had a chance with one more option with a heart pump,” Norma said. “After we said yes, they were ready to do it the next morning.”


In December 2011, doctors attached a Left Ventricular Assist Device to Dave’s heart. The machine, which was made famous by its use by former Vice President Dick Cheney, was attached directly to Dave’s left ventricle and exits through his stomach. Like the former VP, Dave has no recognizable pulse or blood pressure as the machine whirs away in his chest at 8,600 revolutions per minute.


AGH Mechanical Heart Coordinator Ellie Donalson said for patients with congestive heart failure, the machine can be a lifesaver.


“We use the device in two ways,” said. “As a bridge to transplant, and for those patients who do not meet the criteria for a heart transplant.”


Donalson said heart failure cannot be cured except with the replacement of the organ.


Through open-heart surgery, a part of the left ventricle was removed and grafted with an inflow valve. An outflow valve pumps blood out of the aorta. The device sits below the apsis of the heart.


The LVAD can be plugged directly into the wall through the outlet in Dave’s stomach or transported in a small 12-pound handbag powered by batteries. The Kelsos have a supply of eight batteries, each of which have enough life to power the mechanism for up to 18 hours, giving them over two days’ worth of reserve power. He was given a water-resistant bag for him to take into the shower and the couple said they were considering getting a generator to help power the recharging station in the event of a power outage.


“I’ve been fortunate,” Dave said. “A lot of people never come off that table.”


Kelso isn’t able to go swimming, do strenuous activities like shoveling or touch anything that is liable to cause a shock. Despite the added inconveniences, Dave said that he appreciates his second lease on life.


“It’s not so comfortable to sleep on my left side and it gets annoying carrying the bag in crowds,” Dave said. “But other than that, I don’t mind it. I’m still alive.”


Although he is restricted from doing some things, he still will be able to do many of the things he loves. He said he was looking forward to going deer hunting this season.


Norma Kelso said she was just happy to have her husband with her to celebrate their 55th wedding anniversary Oct. 19.


“He’s my bionic man,” Norma Kelso said. “He’s got these devices inside of him and he can’t feel any of it.”


The LVAD system is relatively rare. Of the 10,000 patients who carry one worldwide, there are about 40 living in the tri-state area. The Kelsos said they wanted to get the word out so that other people suffering with a similar condition would be aware of their options.


“We’re lucky,” Norma said. “If we hadn’t found this device, he wouldn’t have made it.”


Those who think they might qualify for a ventricular assistance device are encouraged to call Ellie Donalson at 412-359-3346.


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