At a Glance:
When Danny started experiencing fatigue and nausea around age 33, he knew something wasn’t right. He went to several doctors over the next few years, but was told there was nothing wrong or that it was depression.
As time went on, Danny’s condition worsened and he began to have problems with memory and breathing. Working as a radiologic technologist, his symptoms worsened to the point that he could no longer do his job.
“I couldn’t remember how to do scans I’d been doing for 16 years,” he said.
Danny sought care at a local emergency room and ended up being hospitalized for a week. X-rays showed he had fluid in his lungs, but doctors ruled out heart failure because of his young age. However, a couple of days after he was released from the hospital, Danny went back, knowing something was still wrong.
This time his chest x-ray showed that he was in heart failure, and a subsequent echocardiogram showed his ejection fraction — the percentage of blood leaving the heart each time it contracts — was only 12%. A normal ejection fraction is 55 to 70%. Despite the results, Danny’s cardiologist insisted he was too young to have heart failure. Danny immediately asked to be transferred to University of Washington (UW) Medical Center in Seattle.
Danny was able to watch his oldest daughter graduate from college thanks to the SynCardia TAH and his subsequent heart transplant.
When Danny arrived at UW Medical Center, doctors told him that if he had stayed at the other hospital for even two more days, he would have died.
Danny was immediately admitted to the ICU and, over the next few weeks, underwent numerous tests to assess his condition. Doctors decided to implant a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) to help his heart pump more blood.
Unfortunately, six weeks later, a blood clot formed in the LVAD and Danny was rushed back to the hospital.
“You could hear it,” said Danny. “The LVAD sounded like a pump stuck in the mud. The doctors came in and told me, ‘Your heart is so bad you’re going to die unless you’re willing to try the Total Artificial Heart.’”
Danny agreed, and on Mother’s Day 2012, doctors removed the LVAD and his failing heart, and implanted the SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart (TAH).
“My surgeon, Dr. [Nahush] Mokadam, is phenomenal,” said Danny. “He put the Total Artificial Heart in and when I woke up, I felt a lot better immediately. The LVAD didn’t do anything for me because I was too sick, but I felt better with the Total Artificial Heart. I could breathe again, I could walk again. I actually felt decent again. I didn’t feel good all the time, but I felt 10 times better than I did before.”
Once stable, Danny was switched to the Freedom® Portable Driver, a smaller, lighter pump for the TAH, and discharged from the hospital to wait for his matching donor heart at home.
Danny was able to enjoy going for walks and drives, attending a Seattle Seahawks preseason game, going out to dinner and attending his brother’s wedding – all without a human heart.
When a matching donor heart was found 316 days later, Danny immediately called his three children to tell them the news. While talking to his youngest daughter, who had turned 7 the day before, she told him it was her birthday wish coming true.
Danny hasn’t had any issues with rejection since his transplant, but says it took him about three years to fully recover because he had been so sick for so long. Today he says he’s feeling almost completely normal.
Danny recently married his fiancé, April. The two knew each other in high school. One day she messaged him on Facebook to ask how he was doing, and their relationship bloomed.
“She has been amazing,” said Danny. “She was the final push. I had made the turnaround and was doing better, but she was the final thing that made me do it.”
Thanks to his second chance at life, Danny was able to watch his oldest daughter, Kaylee, graduate college and walk her down the aisle at her wedding. Danny also now has two grandsons.
Based on his experience, Danny urges others to advocate for themselves to ensure they get the best care available. Had Danny not insisted on being transferred to UW Medical Center, he wouldn’t be alive today.
“Follow your gut instincts,” said Danny. “If you think something is wrong, stick with it, even if nobody believes you. Believe in yourself if you feel that something is wrong.”