Power of Family Devotion and VAD Procedure Save Country Club Hills Woman

For Immediate Release

November 19, 2014

Contact: Dr. Asad Zaman 708-752-3233  zmedicare@gmail.com

Power of Family Devotion and VAD Procedure Save Country Club Hills Woman

Dr. Asad Zaman recommends complicated procedure, guides recovery

Tinley Park – It was about 8 years ago that Lester Young had the first thought that something might be wrong with his wife Carol.

“We were going to a wedding for a Lodge brother and we had to park a couple blocks away. She told me not to drop her off at the door, that we would walk together. Well, every 30 or 40 feet, Carol had to stop and catch her breath. Our Lodge members who were walking with us became aware of it and we all stopped with her together.”

It was such an isolated incident, Lester says, that he really just put it out of his mind. Carol was in her mid 50′s, physically fit and trim, working out at the local health club five days a week and seemingly in perfect health.

About a year later, Carol had an episode in the middle of the night, not being able to catch her breath and panicking. Lester drove her to Advocate South Suburban Hospital, where they gave her oxygen, took X-rays, performed an EKG, administered medicine through an inhaler and “got her settled back down.”

These episodes occurred rarely, about once a year, then suddenly Carol and Lester noticed they were coming six months apart, then more and more frequently. Lester would be woken by the shift in Carol’s sleep pattern, her changing breathing pattern and her growing discomfort. “I could tell when it was going to happen and we’d go through the fight. My wife is a proud woman and didn’t want me calling an ambulance, but I insisted. Sometimes, by the time she got to the hospital, she could not breathe at all.” Carol nods, “It was getting more serious. Once I had to kneel in the car seat, facing backwards because sitting put too much pressure on my lungs.” Carol began having trouble with her blood pressure, the emergency room oxygen techniques increased, and medical staff struggled to get her vital signs stabilized.

Initially, medical professionals diagnosed Carol with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This didn’t sit right with Carol, as she hadn’t smoked in well over ten years and the episodes, with rare exception, only occurred while she was sleeping.

Carol’s primary care physician, Dr. Asad Zaman, recommended she see a cardiologist who could go a little deeper to find a solution for these attacks. She began wearing a vest that tracked her heartbeat around the clock and sent alerts to the hospital, so they could be ready whenever signs indicated an attack was imminent. A defibrillator was installed to deliver electrical pulses to Carol’s heart when necessary to keep it beating regularly.

As Carol recovered at Advocate South Suburban from an episode in October of 2011, Dr. Zaman decided that Carol’s confusing condition needed the knowledge of dedicated specialists and an innovative new device.

Carol said, “Dr. Zaman came to talk to us. And I mean ‘us’ because my family was always there with me. He recommended I transfer to (Advocate) Christ (Hospital) because Dr. Zaman felt very strongly that I would benefit from a VAD.”

A VAD is a Ventricular Assist Device, a mechanical pump that supports heart function and blood flow. The VAD pumps blood from a lower heart chamber to vital organs throughout the body, operating outside of the body as a healthy heart.

Dr. Zaman knew the VAD was not widely used in the medical community as yet, but that Christ Hospital was seeing success in carefully chosen patients. Carol was a perfect candidate, Dr. Zaman felt, because it was only her heart that was affected. All her other systems were very functional.

While technicians performed tests to assess Carol’s suitability for the VAD, she had an episode – and medical professionals were able to see exactly what was happening. Because of a congenital defect in her heart valve, her heart was pumping fluid into her lungs. The technicians manually removed the fluid and prescribed Lasix to purge her body of all extra fluid. Bypass surgery to replace that defective valve was performed and it was immediately after that everything seemed to fall apart.

“She wasn’t coming back up,” said Lester. “They wanted to get a temporary VAD in as soon as possible, because she wasn’t coming out of it.” The family was faced with a choice that no one wants to consider – let Carol ease out of this world, or subject her to another traumatic surgery that might not help.

Carol had been in physical therapy while in the hospital, working on her circulation and mobility. One of the exercises she continued to do even after therapy was finished was pumping her feet, to keep her blood moving and keep her feet working.

“When they talked to me about making the decision,” said Lester, “I looked at her and saw her rocking that foot, even in this coma. She kept rocking that foot. I thought, ‘my wife wants to live.’ And so the decision wasn’t hard at all.”

The VAD was installed, with hopes that this device could strengthen her heart. She was kept in a medically induced coma to keep her comfortable and aid the healing process, but her kidneys began failing. Carol had dialysis by her bedside and then continuous renal replacement therapy (CRRT). While medical professionals hoped her kidneys would improve, the longer she stayed in the coma, the worse they got. “They told us she wasn’t going to make it, that she would have no quality of life if she did. But she was still rocking that damn foot.”

Lester did not give up. He made his home at Carol’s bedside in Christ Hospital and began to consider the nursing and medical staff there part of his family. “Her health seemed to depend on my being there. Someone was always there, someone was always with her, but her stability depended on me. If I left to grab a shower and some sleep, I’d get a phone call from my son Cory – “Dad, you better get back here. Everything is going crazy again.”

Carol smiles, “I told him before they took me down for that surgery, ‘just don’t leave me.’ And somehow, even in that coma, I could feel that he wasn’t there, even for a minute.” Lester agrees, “My kids said, ‘Dad, you have to just move into the hospital.”

After several additional surgeries, her heart began to improve and heal. Staff brought her out of the coma, only to discover she had contracted clostridium difficle (C. diff) and other bacterial infections, some at the point of the ventilator access. Carol was released to a rehabilitation facility, in hopes of weaning her from the ventilator and getting her back to breathing on her own again. Within weeks, Carol was back at Christ to treat infections.

That was when Lester saw Dr. Zaman, walking into the hospital. Dr. Zaman asked how Carol was doing, as he hadn’t been getting sufficient updates. When Lester explained the surgeries and treatments, Dr. Zaman took charge.

“We finally had a voice. Dr. Zaman came in there with a vengeance and coordinated her care.” Dr. Zaman started personally attending Carol every day and helped Lester more carefully determine what was necessary to benefit Carol. Procedures were closely scrutinized for effectiveness and Carol truly began to improve. “He helped me be an real advocate for Carol. Dr. Zaman sorted out what was too aggressive from what was actually helpful.”

The Young family became extremely close with physicians and nursing staff, so much so that Dr. Pappas, Carol’s surgeon, joined them at an in-hospital Thanksgiving feast. “We had a spread with us, all the family there and Dr. Pappas came in with his son and said, ‘This is a family I need you to see.’ Because Carol was never, ever by herself.”

With Dr. Zaman’s advice and advocacy, Carol was finally released from the hospital and went home. “Without Dr. Zaman, sometimes I think she’d still be in that hospital bed,” chuckles Lester.

Carol needed both a heart transplant and a kidney transplant to fully recover, as the VAD was a temporary solution. A temporary VAD works for about 18 months and then, as the body begins to reject it and the device deteriorates, it must be replaced with either a permanent device or a transplant. Because she needed a kidney as well, the permanent VAD was not the optimal choice for her long-term recovery. Carol’s medical conditions and her overall healthy lifestyle choices made her a perfect candidate for transplant.

Carol and Lester were now driving to a special dialysis facility that was familiar with the VAD, about 30 minutes from their Country Club Hills home 3 times each week. “The VAD freaked people out,” says Lester. “Not very many medical professionals are actually trained on it. It weighs about 50 pounds and there are tubes running everywhere that can get kinked. The amount of devices surrounding Carol,” he paused, “She was in a wheelchair and we had to move a lot of stuff around to move her around.”

It was May 2013 and those 18 months were ticking to a close. Lester and Carol were traveling to another round of dialysis when Carol’s cell phone rang.  It was Stacie Ward, Carol’s transplant coordinator at University of Chicago, telling her that a heart and kidney had been found.

“I started bawling right on the phone, and Stacie did too. She told me to turn the car around, get my bag and get to the hospital. We went home to wait for the confirmation that everything was a match. I was celebrating,” Carol laughs.

Lester was more cautious. “My theory is that you don’t break down until things are all over. You gotta stay focused or you’re gonna screw up.” That time at the house, waiting for confirmation, were some of the happiest and also more difficult moments of Lester’s life. Carol laughs again, “Oh but I was celebrating!”

The match was confirmed and Lester and Carol headed to University of Chicago, experienced in this complicated surgery. Carol was whisked away from Lester and the family, including son Cory Young, daughter Karrie Blackmon and Carol’s sister Barbara Fields, was directed to a waiting room, where they waited for over 24 hours. “Stacie is the one who finally came through with the information. She found us, told us the surgery had been successful and that everything was looking positive.”

Daughter Leslie Tooks and her family had already moved into the Young’s home months before, to be instantly ready to help care for Carol whenever the transplant happened. “I came home just three weeks later, to a house that had to be spotlessly clean from top to bottom, to a bedroom that had to be a clean room.” (A clean room must have special air filters to keep dust, microbes, vapors and particles at an absolute minimum) Another surgery was required to remove infected tissue, which had been the source of all those infections, at the base of the VAD tubing.

Carol recuperated and healed over the course of eight months, engaging in home therapy, occupational therapy and then physical therapy. “I was very weak for awhile. I had to learn how to walk one foot in front of the other, how to balance, how to go up and down stairs.”

Now 64, Carol is dialysis free and takes antirejection medication and not much else. She sees Dr. Zaman, still her primary care physician, every 3 to 6 months and checks in with Christ Hospital about once a year. “I am a woman of faith and I thank God for Dr. Zaman. He is the one who realized I had a much bigger problem. I never had chest pains, I never had a heart attack, but he knew something bigger was happening. I thank him for insisting I see the specialists. I am grateful for the staff at Christ, who became part of our family and who are still concerned about my health. They are wonderful, wonderful people.”

Dr. Zaman smiles broadly when he talks about Carol. “A very important part of being a good healthcare provider is choosing the right patient for the right procedure. We want to be sure that complicated procedures have a real chance of a good outcome. For Carol, the VAD was a good selection. She’s walking around feeling like a million bucks now.”

Carol has her lifestyle back and has taken on a new project; getting Lester back in shape. Married now for 36 years, Carol says, “My husband is spent.” Now that things are over, Lester has had time to break down. He smiles, “Yeah, she’s beating me up now to get my hip fixed.”

“My family support system is so strong. I am so grateful for them, and for this man. He is so special,” she says, smiling at Lester. “My health is good now and I’m ready to take care of him.”

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