With no options left, patient feels lucky to be living thanks to a VAD

For one ventricular assist device patient, the chance to live a more active life had much more to do with helping others than himself.

5:00 AM

Author | Jane Racey Gleeson

Group in pink, purple and black clothing celebrating, Detroit Tigers Comerica Park in background.
Preston Sporer and his family. Credit: Sporer family

Preston Sporer was born with aortic stenosis, a condition that would define his life.

From an early age, he wasn't able to participate in any type of strenuous activity, including gym class.

MORE FROM MICHIGAN: Sign up for our weekly newsletter

"I knew my limitations," he said, recalling shortness of breath and fatigue as a part of his everyday life.

This was just the beginning of what would eventually lead to a ventricular assist device, also known as a VAD, that has allowed the 50-year-old to do the things he loves, particularly keeping up with his three-year-old grandson and volunteer work with a group he refers to as "seniors with disABILITIES."

From the beginning

As a young boy under the care of pediatricians, Sporer was treated with medication and underwent several heart-related treatments — all before the age of 10.

Over the years, he learned to live with his symptoms, often going for stretches of time without receiving medical care.

In 2001, however, with his condition worsening and a new diagnosis of heart failure, he underwent an open-heart aortic valve replacement procedure at a hospital near his home in Brighton, Michigan.

When symptoms returned in 2007, he turned to the University of Michigan Health Frankel Cardiovascular Center, where he was initially treated with medication.

"We wanted to do whatever we could to avoid having another aortic valve surgery," said Sporer.

While the medication helped for a while, he again required an open aortic valve replacement procedure, followed in 2019 by a minimally invasive transcatheter aortic valve replacement, also known as a TAVR, procedure. With a TAVR patients can avoid an open surgical procedure with quicker recovery and a shorter hospital stay.

How a VAD works

For the retired mason, however, a more aggressive solution would be the next step. Sporer would need a ventricular assist device.

A VAD helps to pump blood from the left ventricle (the left lower chamber of the heart) into the aorta, the main vessel that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. Implanted inside the body, the pump is connected to a cord, or "driveline," that exits through a small site in the abdomen. The driveline is connected to a small computer, called the controller, which is attached to batteries and runs the pump. The controller is worn by the patient in a holder (a specially designed vest, shoulder bag or waist pack), close to the body.

Like Podcasts? Add the Michigan Medicine News Break on iTunes or anywhere you listen to podcasts.

The device can be used in two ways: as a bridge to a heart transplant in patients who meet the qualifications for a transplant but need temporary support to survive until a donor heart becomes available, or as destination therapy for patients with advanced heart failure who may not be eligible for a heart transplant. As destination therapy, VADs are implanted permanently as long-term support to extend a patient's life.

Sporer's VAD would be considered destination therapy as other conditions — including diabetes and esophageal cancer — made him ineligible for a heart transplant.

No easy decision

But his decision for a VAD didn't come easy.

"I was terrified," he admits, "The whole idea was so scary, but at that point I couldn't even walk across the room because my breathing was so bad."

Sporer looked to Frankel CVC resources to help with his decision, including physician assistants Angela Rose, PA-C, and Kevin Knott, PA-C, social workers and other VAD patients who shared honest information about life with the device, including the benefits and risks.

On March 3, Sporer underwent surgery to implant his ventricular assist device. "I did great," he said, noting that he was able to leave the hospital in 13 days – ahead of the typical 18-plus days for most patients.

"Mr. Sporer's fighting spirit and his curiosity about how the VAD operated is what helped him get back home to his family so quickly," said Knott.

"The patient and his wife — his primary caregiver — picked things up very quickly regarding life with a VAD," added Rose.

Education is key

The Frankel CVC VAD team provides education by dedicated health care professionals and VAD coordinators along with support from social workers and other VAD patients.

"Our VAD coordinators provide the majority of post-VAD education and ensure patients and their caregivers understand all aspects of living with a VAD — from changing batteries and monitoring alarms to taking care of the driveline site and ensuring their home has the proper electrical outlets," said Rose.

A multidisciplinary VAD team is available 24/7 to provide comprehensive care for patients. "We make sure all of our patients' questions are answered and talk them through different scenarios they may encounter," said Rose.

"We educate patients and their caregivers about every aspect of their VAD, including how it operates, how to change the batteries, what the alarms indicate, how to troubleshoot the alarms and how to perform sterile dressing changes to the driveline exit site," said VAD coordinator Rená Lucier, R.N. "In fact, a patient cannot leave the hospital until they have a full understanding of their VAD and can manage it with confidence."

Living with a VAD

Today, Sporer couldn't be more thankful for his ventricular assist device and increased energy level.

"I need it for my volunteer work with adults with disABILITIES through the Special Ministries of Livingston County," he said, adding that his wife, Brook, is the program supervisor.

For everyone involved, Sporer's ventricular assist device is a win-win as he uses his newfound energy and health to help improve the lives of others less fortunate.

And he wouldn't have it any other way, saying: "Offering my time is the best medicine there is."

More Articles About: Heart Health Cardiovascular: Treatment & Surgery
Health Lab word mark overlaying blue cells
Health Lab

This article is from the Health Lab digital publication.

Media Contact Public Relations

Department of Communication at Michigan Medicine




Get a weekly digest of medical research and innovation, straight to your inbox.

Featured News & Stories woman smiling hospital bed UM pillow
Health Lab
Her heart stopped more than 25 times. ECMO saved her life.
After two birthdays in the hospital, she celebrated with a brand-new heart.
Girl doing a dive into swimming pool
Health Lab
A child’s unbearable leg pain signaled a rare problem many couldn’t solve
After years spent searching for the cause of her leg pain, the now 16-year-old is on the mend. 
cardiovascular heart inflammation pink red blue background
Health Lab
What is heart inflammation?
A Michigan Medicine cardiologist explains what heart inflammation is, how it affects the body and how it can be treated.
family smiling posing outdoors happy
Health Lab
Challenging procedure opens most important blood vessel in one man’s heart
When Tony Sanchez was given no hope for his completely blocked artery, a skilled team stepped in, and up, to restore 100% of his blood flow.
woman smiling infront of greenery
Health Lab
A worsening lung disease deemed hopeless, until doctors tried this treatment
Lakeitha Perry was sent home from her local hospital with no options for treating her pulmonary hypertension, but innovative treatment methods changed her prognosis and her life.
Health Lab
What a Mini Stroke Is, and Why You Need To Act FAST
The signs of a TIA to watch for and how to handle the urgent situation.