When you meet John Baker you might wonder what is in his black fanny pack. He knows they went out of style a while back, but he wears his with pride. Inside he carries back up batteries and a Ventricular Assist Device (VAD), which keeps his blood pumping.
Last year, at age 55, this tattooed Marine from Mukwonago was competing in strength and weight lifting competitions and was a regular at his local gym. But, something was terribly wrong. It was his heart.
“All of a sudden, my body filled up with fluid. It felt like my body was going to split,” John remembers. “It was hard to breathe and I was coughing up a lot of blood.”
He was diagnosed in another health system with congestive heart failure and pneumonia. After a number of hospitalizations, John was told there was nothing else they could do, “they told me I was going to die.”
John remembers crying with his fiancé and his physician in his hospital room. All three of them were in tears, wondering how he was going to tell his children, ages 11 and 13.
“But my physician there really cared for me,” John said, “and she really felt Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center would have something for me. I saw how much she wanted me to live.”
The technology that is keeping John’s blood pumping
Vinay Thohan, MD, medical director of advanced cardiac care at Aurora St. Luke’s, met John when he was at his sickest. “He tried so hard to be upbeat – as is his disposition – but he was struggling. His previous health system evaluated him in expert fashion and referred him over just in time.”
Dr. Thohan and the team worked hard to restore John’s health, but his heart condition was beginning to affect his kidneys, liver and lungs. John needed a heart transplant, but he wasn’t going to make it while he waited for a new heart to become available.
John’s best option was a VAD, which is implanted into a weakened heart and helps by pulling blood from the heart and pushing it into the aorta. John received the 600th VAD since the start of the program at Aurora St. Luke’s.
“We saw John’s kidneys, liver, and lungs respond well once we got his blood flowing again,” said Dr. Thohan. “That is exactly what we want to see.”
After meeting a number of wellness targets, John was officially placed on the United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS) registry for a new heart.
John has one word to describe Aurora St. Luke’s, “remarkable.” “I was days from death – a sack of bones, my skin was gray and blue, but they knew they could help me.”
John feels the heaviness of knowing that a new heart will come from another person who has passed on, “it will mean a family will be grieving the loss of their loved one.” John treasures the generosity of a gifted heart and has taken on the mission of talking to people about organ donation. “People who are organ donors are truly giving life back. It is spiritual and courageous.”
Thank you, from John
As John waits for a heart, he continues to share his positivity and gratitude with others. John is immensely grateful for his new design accessory – his fanny pack – because it is sustaining his life as he waits for a new heart.
John thanks each and every donor to cardiac services at Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center. “Without support for these advancements in technology and schooling for physicians and nurses,” John says, “nobody gets saved.”
He knows you played a huge part in saving his life, and countless others. “Giving to cardiac services is an amazing investment. Someone you know will need help with their heart one day.”