A Surgery With a Twist? How We Meet Patient Needs

Do you remember a time when you wanted to do something you enjoy but other things got in the way? Most of us have an example of that happening. Did you think of a way to get around the obstacles?

A gentleman named Tyrone Morris is proof of the adage where there’s a will, there’s a way. He’s hit some big medical obstacles and is working his way around them.

Tyrone is an Aurora Health Care patient in his 40s whose heart is shutting down. He’s already had open-heart surgery to implant an artificial pump in his chest to help his heart out while he waits for a heart transplant.

The medical term for Tyrone’s condition is nonischemic dilated cardiomyopathy. This means the left ventricle of Tyrone’s heart has widened, or dilated, so it can’t pump well. Cardiomyopathy can develop in other parts of the heart as well. Over time, this disease can weaken heart muscles and lead to heart failure.

Tyrone’s condition deteriorated to the point where he had to take a rest break while mowing the lawn. He became winded and weak climbing a flight of stairs. The loss of energy and stamina is common in advanced cases of dilated cardiomyopathy.

Meeting a Patient’s Needs

Here’s the part of Tyrone’s story that has a bit of a twist! Tyrone is the recipient of a left ventricular assist device. The ventricular assist device, or VAD, is a surgically implanted computer-controlled pump that helps Tyrone’s heart do its job. In his case, the small pump helps his left ventricle pump blood all over the body.

We’re using the VAD to help Tyrone’s heart continue to do its job while he waits for a heart transplant.

The external battery packs and computer control of the VAD are connected to the heart by cords. The system’s cords run from the heart and leave Tyrone’s body through a small incision near his waist. From there they connect to the control unit and battery, which remain outside the body. When we implant a VAD, we normally put the external units on the patient’s right side.

In Tyrone’s case, he requested that the incision for the cords be placed on his left side. You see, he’s right handed and a pretty good bowler. He’s rolled six perfect 300 games! He didn’t want the cords and external units to interfere with his bowling. So that’s how the surgical team implanted the VAD system during open heart surgery. The surgical team was led by Dr. Frank Downey, surgical director of mechanical circulatory support and cardiac transplantation at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center.

Now Tyrone is bowling again. He just uses a ball lighter than 16 pounds (usually 15), and he carries his controller and battery pack in a vest he bought to hold it all just where it needs to be. He’s pleased he can still take advantage of the health benefits of bowling, such as:

  • Weight loss — The activity helps boost your metabolism. And it can burn from 170 to 300 calories per game.
  • Muscle toning and strengthening — It ‘s a weight-based workout. The sport’s flexing, bending and stretching is good for your shoulder, arms, chest and leg muscles.
  • Reduced risk of disease — Physical activities like bowling help lower your risks of stroke, heart attack and diabetes. Being physically active also increases your bone density, improves circulation, lowers cholesterol levels and blood pressure, and helps your body use oxygen more efficiently.

As a bonus, bowling is an activity all ages can participate in and it’s an excellent way to build an expanded social circle, which is good for your mental health. In fact, Tyrone recently celebrated his 40th birthday at, where else, his favorite bowling alley.

What Should You Know About Cardiomyopathy?

Cardiomyopathy can go undiagnosed in people, but it’s estimated that one in 500 adults have the condition. If a person has the condition and it continues to advance in severity, it can lead to heart failure, which can be life threatening — as is Tyrone’s case.

The Centers for Disease Control say a number of different influences can lead to cardiomyopathy, including:

  • A family history of cardiomyopathy, heart failure or sudden cardiac arrest.
  • Coronary heart disease or a heart attack.
  • Diseases that can damage the heart, such as hemochromatosis, sarcoidosis or amyloidosis.
  • Endocrine diseases, including thyroid conditions and diabetes.
  • Infections in the heart muscle.
  • Long-term alcoholism or cocaine abuse.
  • Muscle conditions such as muscular dystrophy.
  • Pregnancy.

Symptoms of cardiomyopathy include:

  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing.
  • Fatigue.
  • Swelling in your ankles and legs.
  • Irregular heartbeat or palpitations.
  • Fainting or briefly passing out, medically known as syncope.


If you have questions or concerns about your heart health, see your health care professional. Today innovative treatments exist to treat cardiomyopathy and help give patients a better quality of life. 


Meet the Author

Vinay Thohan, MD is a cardiologist at Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center In Milwaukee, WI.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

Get engaging health and wellness insights emailed to you daily.

Check it out now

Recent Posts

Know the Difference: Heart Attack vs. Heart Failure

Surprising Heart Health Risks of 1 Cigarette a Day

8 Ways to Reduce Risk of Heart Disease

Find a Doctor Find a Location