Valentine Goes Home With New Heart

Not too many people get second chances in life, I’m going to make the best of mine.

Heart Disease / Heart Transplant

For many people Valentine’s Day is a holiday filled with love, romance and affection. It’s a time for meaningful cards, flowers and sentimental gifts. But this year, one Sacramento Valentine received a gift like no other. He received the gift of life – a new heart.

“Not too many people get second chances in life,” Mr. Valentine said. “I’m going to make the best of mine.”

Valentine underwent successful heart transplant surgery at Sutter Medical Center, Sacramento two weeks ago after being placed on the organ transplant waiting list last July. The devoted husband and father had been suffering from chronic heart disease for the past seven years.

“I used to train horses at Cal Expo and I used to be tired every morning,” Valentine said. “I felt like I had the flu. After a while I couldn’t take it anymore, so I went to the doctor and I found out the left side of my heart didn’t work.”

The following five years were a roller-coaster ride for Valentine. The once strong, energetic man found himself regularly in and out of hospitals, often going to the emergency room three days a week to have his swollen legs drained. It wasn’t until 2009 that Valentine heard about the Sutter Heart & Vascular Institute and his luck began to change.

After meeting with John Chin, M.D., medical director of the Heart Transplant Program and Robert Kincade, M.D., surgical director of the Heart Transplant Program & Ventricular Assist Device Program at Sutter Medical Center, Sacramento, and Jeffry Jones, M.D., medical director of Cardiac Critical Care Medicine & Ventricular Assist Device Program, Valentine was told he was a candidate for a long-term mechanical heart pump. The left ventricular assist device (LVAD) was implanted into his abdomen and sewn into his left ventricle and aorta. Its function was to do most of the work of his heart until a donor heart became available.

“Mr. Valentine came to us literally dying of heart failure,” Dr. Kincade said. “He was so short or breath he had to sleep sitting on his knees. We implanted a Heartmate II left ventricular assist device as a bridge to transplant.”

After the successful LVAD surgery, Valentine was able to go on a walk with his family for the first time in years.

“It was a beautiful alternative,” Valentine said. “The LVAD helps, it really does. I didn’t know a machine could help you like that.”

On Jan. 24, 2011, 14 months after receiving his mechanical heart pump, Valentine got the call that a heart match had been found for him. He underwent the heart transplant surgery the same day and spent the next two weeks in the hospital recovering.

“I feel a big difference already,” Valentine said. “Last time with the LVAD surgery it took me 20 days to get out of bed. This time I was walking the next day.”

Valentine said his long journey to a heart transplant has been worth it and said it was the staff at Sutter that helped make it possible.

“The people here, from the head janitor to the cook … they are the best. I can’t imagine people who love their job so much,” Valentine said. “I couldn’t get better doctors than Dr. Chin, Dr. Kincade and Dr. Jones.”

Valentine went home on Tuesday, and his wife who said having him home with a new heart is the best gift she could receive.