When Sean Porter speaks, his voice is a whisper, the words straining to be heard. He doesn’t have a cold. Or laryngitis. Porter’s vocal troubles are the lingering effects of tubes inserted down his throat when he was intubated after his heart almost stopped beating.
Porter is the father of a son and daughter and an Orange County resident who found himself in critical condition when he needed an emergency quadruple bypass surgery.
“I was feeling very sick with no energy,” said Porter. “I was facing a dire situation.”
Porter had originally received care at Hoag Memorial Hospital in Newport Beach. However, his recovery was complicated by repeated cardiac arrests, and as a result, his weakened heart required the immediate assistance of a mechanical support device.
Eric Adler, MD, director of cardiac transplant and mechanical circulatory support at UC San Diego Health, was called in to evaluate whether Porter would need even more advanced therapies.
“In a situation like this, we know that every second is critical,” said Adler.
Porter was airlifted from Orange County to UC San Diego Health by Mercy Air. He was the first patient to land on the helipad at Jacobs Medical Center, the 245-bed, state-of-the-art hospital that opened in 2016 at UC San Diego Health. Paul Kim, MD, a cardiac fellow at UC San Diego Health, accompanied the Mercy Air flight crew to supervise Porter’s medical care and transport.
“The transport was complex and required moving the mechanical support device, ventilator and multiple pumps delivering intravenous medications. I was focused on making sure the device remained in proper position and continued to operate throughout the flight because Sean’s life depended on it,” said Kim. “It was an honor to be part of the excellent care, coordination and amazing team effort with the Mercy Air crew and the Abiomed representatives.”
When Sean arrived at UC San Diego Health, the team recognized how sick he was and immediately began planning next steps.
“Over the next week, we found that his heart gradually recovered its strength. Time is what his heart needed to recover and we now have the technology, like a left ventricular assist device, to provide support to a failing heart,” said Adler.
UC San Diego Health is the leading mechanical circulatory support and heart transplant center in San Diego County, having performed 32 heart transplantations and 30 left ventricular assist device implantations in 2016. In addition to San Diego County, UC San Diego Health receives referrals from Orange County, San Bernardino, Riverside and Las Vegas.
Porter spent 14 days at UC San Diego Health. His initial days out of the hospital were challenging, with multiple prescriptions and needing daily dressing changes for his wound. However, as he became stronger, he no longer needed some of his blood pressure medications and was able to return to his work.
“It was incredibly hard on my family, but after I left the hospital, we all felt like I was given a second chance with a new and improved heart,” said Porter.
“Sean has made a remarkable recovery and a lot of this is due to him taking good care of himself, working with his therapists in his cardiac rehabilitation program and his relatively young age,” said Adler. “Although every patient is different, I expect that Sean will make a full recovery.”
Now a few months after being discharged, Porter is spending a lot of quality time with his family.
“I am now in a place where I can be much more involved with my kids. They are the priority in my life,” said Porter, who continues to travel back and forth from Orange County to San Diego for follow up care.
Porter is also going through voice therapy and is slowly improving.
“The staff at UC San Diego Health is amazing — from the doctors to the nurses and the rehab therapists, I have received the best care that saved my life and gave my kids their dad back. I’m so grateful . . . even without a voice,” said Porter.
Once, a transplant was the only option for patients with heart failure, who frequently died waiting for a suitable donor organ. Now, implanted left ventricular assist devices not only extend hope, they often give many patients back their lives. Cardiologist Eric Adler, MD, and heart patient Jeff Hambrick talk about the technology and what it means for patients living with the device.
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