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When Jack and Jill Go Up the Hill, Tom Can Follow After

Hatfield Man Welcomes Ups and Downs of life with a Mini Heart Pump

Tom Leonard with Jack and Jill

Tom Leonard with Jack and Jill

For the past eight years, Tom Leonard, 66, has been fighting congestive heart failure (CHF) – a condition resulting from a heart attack he survived in 2006, which damaged his heart, leaving it weak and inefficient.

Since then, he has waged many battles against CHF, coming out on top, thanks to a wealth of available treatments and the expertise of cardiologists at Lansdale and Abington Memorial hospitals.

Tom’s cardiologists have used an assortment of effective weapons to help him hold his ground: cardiac stents, medication management, intravenous (IV) medication, a biventricular pacemaker, and a temporary intra-aortic balloon pump. Recently, however, Tom came terrifyingly close to losing the war. As it turns out, his physicians were able to bring out an important weapon to treat heart failure – actually a miniature, battery-operated heart pump known as a left ventricular assist device (LVAD). In August 2014, Tom became the 26th patient at Abington Memorial Hospital to undergo the implantation of this device.

The characteristics that made Tom a good candidate for the LVAD procedure – his strong work ethic, passion for life and dogged determination – were those, ironically, that also kept him from pursuing the surgical option sooner. Although his 2006 heart attack left Tom with a moderately damaged heart, he was able to return to a job he loved, thanks to effective medication management under the watchful eye of Clifford L. Ehrlich, MD, director of Diagnostic Cardiology, Lansdale Hospital. Over time, however, Tom’s heart grew increasingly weak. By 2010, medication and other treatments were minimally effective and specialists approved Tom as a candidate for a heart transplant or the LVAD procedure. Still, Tom was not ready to commit to either. “He was very ill,” recalled Dr. Ehrlich, “but Tom’s passion for his job kept him going until eventually his heart simply grew too weak.”

In 2014, after a series of multiple hospitalizations in intensive care, Tom had a heart-to-heart with Donald C. Haas, MD, co-director of the Comprehensive Heart Failure Program, and medical director of the Ventricular Assist Device Program at Abington Health’s Heart and Vascular Institute. Tom had to make a life or death decision.

LVADAfter extensive education and painstaking consideration, Tom understood the benefits, as well as the limitations of relying on a battery-operated pump for the rest of his life. “It became clear to me that my only chance for survival was having the LVAD surgery,” said Tom. “Thanks to this technology, a great medical team, and my brother, Charlie, that’s exactly what I’m doing. It’s not easy, but I’m doing it.” Rohinton J. Morris, MD, chief, Cardiothoracic Surgery, performed Tom’s successful LVAD procedure.

Recently, Tom got news he’d been waiting to hear for months. He received medical clearance to return to work – a source of great pride, as well his main social support network.

Prior to the LVAD surgery, Tom had been working (for 13 years) as a security guard at a retirement community in Blue Bell. Before that, he was a prison guard for 20 years. Tom said that in addition to his needing to get back to work, his recovery has been fueled by knowing Jack and Jill, six-year-old Yorkshire Terriers, need him. Oddly enough, this former prison guard has raised two escape artists. “When they were puppies,” recalled Tom, “they staged a breakout one day by chewing a hole in a door.”

Tom is doing well and remaining as active as possible. He credits nurse practitioner Theresa Hollander, CRNP, Cardiothoracic Surgery, with helping him learn to use and maintain the equipment that keeps him alive. Tom follows up routinely with Drs. Ehrlich and Haas. Fitness conscious even before LVAD surgery, Tom has worn a Fitbit activity wristband – a device that tracks steps, distance and calories burned. In the days before his surgery, Tom could walk just 180 steps before becoming exhausted. “At his first office visit after LVAD surgery, Tom proudly showed me his Fitbit had already tracked 2.5 miles that day,” recalled Kevin Hagan, CRNP, program coordinator, Mechanical Cardiac Assist Program. “That was just six weeks post-op. His determination has undoubtedly led to a noticeable improvement in his quality of life with the LVAD device.”

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