Travis Batey feels extremely fortunate that he'll reach his 25th birthday this summer. "It's hard to believe I'm actually still here," Travis says. Over a year and a half ago, Travis was diagnosed with end-stage chronic congestive heart failure. The prognosis for his future looked bleak at best. Dependent on a 24-hour IV pump, Travis was virtually homebound. He was always short of breath and the pressure on his heart was becoming more unbearable with each passing day. His condition forced Travis to drop out of college in his sophomore year and to give up on many of the things he enjoyed most in lifelike playing golf and going on ski trips. He spent most of his days sitting in a chair. A man-made implantable heart pump known as an LVAD (left ventricular assist device) not only extended the life of Travis' heart, but gave him and his family new hope for the future.
Travis' heart condition came at the end of a long string of other medical ailments. "In 1998, I was diagnosed with leukemia and had to have chemotherapy for four to five months. Then I had a bone marrow transplant to put my leukemia into remission. My heart problems started to act up with the leukemia, but got progressively worse in 1999 when I developed pneumonia." Travis explains. "In the summer of 2000, I was diagnosed with leukemic cells in my spinal fluid. The cells made my legs lose a lot of their strength, so I had to go through another year of chemotherapy. Unfortunately, the chemotherapy made my heart problems even worse. In March 2002, I was put on the 24-hour IV drip and could barely do anything physical. In June, my oncologist referred me to Dr. Naka at Columbia to see if I was a candidate for an LVAD."
Yoshifumi Naka, MD, PhD, Herbert Irving Assistant Professor of Surgery at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons and Director, Cardiac Transplantation and Mechanical Circulatory Support Programs at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, thought Travis was an excellent candidate for an LVAD. "The chemotherapy had severely damaged Travis' heart. The only treatment options for him were either a heart transplant or an LVAD. Because Travis had another recurrence of leukemia before I had met him, we couldn't accept him for a heart transplant. He might not have survived it because he had to be cancer-free for a long period. I thought LVAD implantation could provide him with improved heart pump function until the day he might be a stronger candidate for a heart transplant," Dr. Naka says.
On December 10, 2002, Dr. Naka performed the operation to implant the LVAD. According to Dr. Naka, "LVADs are specifically designed to take over the pumping function of the portion of the heart called the left ventricle. Because the LVAD system is relatively simple to use, patients and their families can maintain it outside the hospital setting, and it can help return patients to their normal activities."
Soon after the operation, Dr. Naka's hopes for Travis came to fruition. "After the recovery period, I had a lot more energy and I could get up and do things. I can drive again and get out of the house. I was even able to play some golf in the summer of 2003. The highlight of that summer was when I attended the Golf Masters in Georgia with my dad," reports Travis.
Travis' mother, Christine Batey, believes the experience has been a positive one for the entire family. "It was very strange for our family coming from a little village near the Catskills and suddenly being transplanted into a big city. But the care given by the staff at Columbia was so thorough. It really helped put us at ease. From Dr. Naka to Dr. Donna Mancini, a cardiologist Travis works with, to Margaret Flannery, a nurse practitioner who has been there emotionally and medically for us throughout the entire process, it has been wonderful."
Dr. Naka sees Travis' case as a real success story. "If Travis had not had the device implanted, his survival rate would have been six months. Now, it's over a year and a half since the LVAD operation and he's alive and doing great. He remains cancer-free, he has no shortness of breath, and the device has allowed him to live a more normal life. Although the LVAD has been implanted as destination, or permanent, therapy, I hope Travis will become eligible for a heart transplant one day," says Dr. Naka.
Travis also hopes that he will be put on the transplant list in the near future. While he would like to finish college at some point, right now he is happy to just have a routine again. "I spend my days going for walks, taking care of my dogs, and helping my mom make supper. I know these are small things, but I am so happy to be doing them. For once I'm not thinking about my heart. I don't feel stress on it, so I don't have to think about it."
Travis has better things to think aboutlike his 25th birthday. "Success here is determined by quantity of life and quality of life. The LVAD has provided him with both," adds Dr. Naka. "I'm hopeful I will be able to say 'Happy Birthday, Travis', year after year."
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