Thanksgiving of 2014 wasn't much of a celebration for David Barber.
"I could barely walk without being completely worn out," Barber says. "I was having to force myself to have a good time while we were on a vacation, because I felt so terrible."
Barber soldiered on and went to urgent care, where it was initially thought he might have pneumonia, bronchitis or a seasonal cold. In fact, he was in the early stages of congestive heart failure despite being only 39 years old at the time.
After a few years of success with pharmaceutical treatments, it became clear Barber would eventually need a heart transplant. He was added to the University of Kentucky transplant list earlier this month, but a suitable organ may not be available for some time, possibly several years. In the meantime, a specialized implant called a ventricular assist device (VAD) is helping him stay active and healthy.
According to Dr. Egnaczyk, Director of Mechanical Cardiac Support Program and The Lindner Heart Failure Treatment Center at The Christ Hospital, about 50 percent of heart transplant recipients receive a VAD to stabilize their condition prior to their procedure.
"Transplant candidates can't always wait for a suitable organ to become available. We implant the VAD to stabilize patients, help them feel better, help them to get stronger and improve nutrition so that they can wait for a suitable organ without having complications — and at worst dying — while they are waiting," Dr. Egnaczyk says.
Unlike many patients, Barber doesn't try to conceal his VAD, which has a control panel and battery packs outside his body. He leaves everything clearly visible to promote awareness of its life-saving potential.
"It's the price I pay for feeling better. People ask, I'll tell them all about it. Proud is not the right word, but it's a story worth telling," Barber says.
Barber is using his second chance at life to the fullest. He works out on a daily basis with the goal of being the fittest transplant patient in the hospital's history. He's traveled to new places. When at home, he also mentors other VAD patients at the hospital every day.
"I'm giving back in a way. Almost as soon as they told me I was having the surgery, a fellow patient came in and spoke with me and my family. He and I remain good friends; probably always will be. I'm trying to do the same for other patients," Barber says.
Barber credits much of his success to the support and resources provided by The Christ Hospital. He's an active member of a VAD support group that meets once a month, a Facebook Group run by the hospital and other programming provided by the VAD team.
"I had an easier time than some folks, and I'm really thankful for that. I can't say enough about the people at The Christ Hospital. From the surgeon who performed my surgery, to the cardiologists on the VAD team, to the nurse coordinators, the ICU nurses, I could list dozens of people who made the process as easy as it can be," Barber says.
One thing is certain: Barber will probably have a lot more to be grateful for during this Thanksgiving holiday than he did three years ago.
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