With every heartbeat, David Waits is grateful.
So much so that on the first anniversary of his new heart, Waits and his wife, Carol, came to University of Cincinnati Medical Center with a batch of red balloons and a tray of frosted cupcakes to share with physicians, nurses and medical staff. Their care and concern along with the generosity of a donor and donor family saved Waits’ life. On February 2, 2016, a UCMC team of medical professionals performed the first heart transplant on Waits in the city of Cincinnati in recent years.
"I thank God for being here,” says Waits, 51, of Hillsboro, Ohio. "It’s way, way more than I ever deserve. I would love to meet the donor’s family and say ‘thank you.’”
Waits’ doctors say that a massive heart attack in December 2014 could have ended his life. But thanks to the efforts and quick thinking of TriHealth cardiac surgeon Eric Okum, MD, who consulted with UC Health cardiac surgery team, Waits was transferred to UCMC.
Once at UCMC, Waits was implanted with a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) to support his heart function. He was placed on a list for a heart transplant in October 2015. Since that life-saving procedure, he’s been under the care of UC Health advanced heart failure therapy cardiologists, Stephanie Dunlap, DO, associate professor of internal medicine at the UC College of Medicine, and David Feldman, MD, PhD, professor of internal medicine.
Louis B. Louis IV, MD, chief of cardiac surgery at UCMC and assistant professor of surgery in UC College of Medicine, performed Waits’ heart transplant and implanted his LVAD in 2014.
"He is enjoying life and he is taking all his medications appropriately and he had a rare hospitalization in his first year after transplant with normal heart function,” says Dunlap, who leads the UC Health Advanced Heart Failure Treatment Center. "He is doing very well. You see him right now, he is in very good spirits.”
Hugs, high-fives and requests for selfies marked the Waits’ return to the UCMC cardiovascular ICU and Interventional Catheterization Lab. Waits was hospitalized at UCMC for 140 days before his release with a new heart.
"UC Health has got amazing, amazing staff,” says Carol Waits, David's wife of 25 years. "If it had not been for the staff members on the sixth floor my husband would have left and went home without hope. It’s not just the nurses, but everyone treated him and my family absolutely wonderful. He was blessed with the greatest doctors he could have.”
Even so, the past year of recovery was difficult for David Waits. He started life with his new heart on various medications—taking up to 60 pills a day upon release, but is now down to 26 daily meds.
"All of it is very important and you have to have it,” says David Waits, who once worked in road construction, pulling down 60 to 70-hour weeks. "It does change your body a little bit. That’s kind of a struggle for me and I think it would be for anybody, but that’s a good thing in the long run.”
"You are also dealing with why did someone have to die for you to live and then all the drugs,” says David Waits. "There is a lot going on inside that nobody ever knows.”
UC Health has psychologists on the transplant services team to help heart, kidney, liver, LVAD and bone marrow patients with pre- and post-transplant success.
Carol Waits says she is hopeful for the future.
"He gets so weak still, but things are getting so much better and here we are a year later,” explains Carol Waits. "It’s just wonderful. I was thinking it was getting to the point that I didn’t think it was going to happen for him. I thought this was going to be the end of it last year, but thank God he was blessed with a heart and things are getting really good for us now.”
David Waits says he couldn’t have made it thus far without family—biological and adopted UC Health kin.
"I couldn’t even get up out of the chair without her,” says David Waits of his wife. "The only reason I came in the hospital waiting on the heart was because of her and my daughter, Britney. It’s wonderful to see all the nurses and doctors. I love them and they are family to me.”