The Challenge: A Failing Heart
The marriage vows, “in sickness and in health,” have deep meaning for Elex Jordan, 67, and his wife, Diane. More than they could have expected when they wed in August of 2006.
Elex’s journey with heart trouble began on April 15, 2007 — a short eight months after the North Versailles residents' wedding.
Elex, a wheelchair ambulance driver, woke up that April morning not feeling his best but went to work anyway. Upon arriving and describing his symptoms to his co-workers, they rushed Elex to UPMC Shadyside with a suspected heart attack.
After his admittance to UPMC Shadyside, doctors said Elex needed quadruple bypass surgery.
Three days later, Elex was ready for his bypass.
But, his heart surgeons chose to first insert an aortic pump due to the low functionality of Elex’s heart. The pump would give the heart a chance to rest and regain strength before doing the bypass.
The Path to a UPMC Heart Failure Expert
After a successful bypass, Elex spent 30 days in the ICU recovering. He then started cardiac rehab at the UPMC Cardiopulmonary Rehab location in White Oak, Pa.
But, even after surgery, Elex still had atrial fibrillation — an irregular, rapid heartbeat often described as a “quiver.”
In October 2007, Elex’s cardiac care team decided to place an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD).
An ICD is a device doctors place under the skin that keeps track of the heart’s rate. When it detects an irregular beat, the ICD sends a shock to the heart.
Dr. McNamara would, as Diane says, “go on to save my husband’s life.”
Under Dr. McNamara's loyal care, Elex went back to work until a work injury lead to his retirement in 2008.
Dr. McNamara therapeutically managed and treated Elex’s heart disease for the next six years, until 2014. That's when Dr. McNamara suggested it was time for Elex to think about a heart transplant.
The Solution: A Heart Transplant at UPMC
While Elex waited for his new heart, doctors gave him IV medication to aid his failing one. He was able to receive his medicine 24/7 in the comfort of his home through an automatic IV pump.
Elex also had a home monitoring system that took daily readings of his:
- Blood pressure
- Oxygen saturation
- Heart rate
Being home, and out of the hospital, as long as possible was a goal of both Elex and Dr. McNamara. The IV pump and other technology from UPMC made that possible for about a month.
But, with Elex's need for a new heart growing, Dr. McNamara felt closer monitoring in the hospital was best for Elex.
From his admittance to UPMC Presbyterian in March 2014, Elex waited three weeks for a new heart.
On April 19th, 2014, Elex got his heart. It was seven years to the day of his quadruple bypass.
Complications from the transplant left Elex in the ICU — where staff awed Diane at the care and attention they gave her husband.
She likens the harmony of the ICU to that of a symphony.
“It was incredible to watch. It was amazing how wonderful and skilled the staff was. [The ICU at UPMC Presbyterian] ran like a well-oiled machine,” Diane marvels.
ICU nurses and doctors adjusted Elex’s medication as often as every 30 seconds, to keep his pressure levels stable.
Diane — speaking about the team's exceptional dedication to her husband's care — says, “[his surgeon] checked in on Elex constantly.”
After a month in the ICU, Elex moved to the transplant floor of UPMC Presbyterian. He then went to UPMC Montefiore for continued care.
The Results: A New Perspective on Life
After a long journey to recovery in the hospital, Elex finally went home. Four years after his heart transplant he's improved greatly.
Diane knows that Elex would not have survived without his heart transplant and is immensely grateful that he's still around.
“I feel so fortunate that I still have my husband by my side. And our grandkids have a Pap-Pap that's healthy enough to fully enjoy the time he spends with them,” Diane says.
Elex loves the everyday pleasures of life with his grandkids:
- Having picnics in the yard.
- Playing games outside.
- Standing in the kitchen making mac ‘n cheese for lunch.
Elex's heart transplant let him regain his sense of independence. He can now drive, do the grocery shopping, cook, and play with the family Dalmatian, Winnie.
It's also allowed the family to resume one of their greatest joys — traveling.
All possible now are:
- Trips to the beach with their grandkids and Winnie.
- Visits with Elex’s mother and the rest of his family in North Carolina.
- And a special family vacation to Walt Disney World to celebrate Elex’s four-year anniversary of a new heart and lease on life.
“Disney is our happy place and we used our trip to celebrate how far Elex has come in four years,” Diane said.
As the spouse and primary caregiver of a transplant patient, Diane offers suggestions to others in her position.
“The patient needs to have an advocate — whether that be a family member, friend, spouse, or partner. They have to have someone who is a walking, talking medical chart for the patient,” Diane explains.
“A lot of the time, the patient isn't able to ask or answer the proper questions for themselves. So, their advocate must be prepared to do so,” Diane says.
Looking back over Elex’s heart journey, Diane expresses her gratitude for UPMC and the experiences they had there.
“We are huge ambassadors of UPMC and think the world of everyone in HVI,” Diane explains.
“I want to sing the praises of everyone at UPMC Presbyterian. It’s not just the doctors and nurses that were wonderful. It was the behind-the-scenes people too. It was truly every person we encountered at UPMC Presbyterian,” she says.
Diane mentions just some of the people that made the UPMC difference for her and Elex:
- The valet parking attendees, who asked about Elex every day when Diane got to the hospital.
- Mr. Price at the front desk, who Diane “looked forward to seeing every day.”
- Hugh the escort that took Elex to his dialysis. “He took the time to talk with Elex and treat him as more than just a patient.”
- Members of the cardiac care team who were a support system for both Elex as the patient and Diane as his caregiver.
- The pharmacy team who has been great helping Elex manage the many medications he takes daily.
For both Diane and Elex, this experience has taught them to look at everyday as a blessing.
Diane credits her interactions with family members of other transplant patients at UPMC for her renewed outlook on life.
“Talking to other people helped me become someone who looks for the silver lining in every day. That has changed my overall perspective on life,” Diane explained.
“It's been a long, hard journey but we would do it all over again if we had to,” says Diane.
Elex's treatment and results may not be representative of similar cases.
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