Adam Schrader knows how to push himself, despite living with a heart condition and the limitations that go with it. The 35-year-old Columbia City, Indiana, resident says he’s always been a man of action who wants to live life.
“I’ve always pushed myself to be as normal as possible,” says Adam, a product designer for DePuy Synthes.
When he was younger, that meant playing basketball in middle school when football wasn’t an option, and competing in the long jump when he didn’t have the stamina to run long distances.
Adam was born with transposition of the great vessels (TGV), a condition that occurs when the two main vessels that carry blood away from the heart — the aorta and the pulmonary artery — are switched. With this condition, blood returning from the body to the heart goes straight back to the body without going to the lungs for oxygen, as it does in a normal heart. The life-threatening condition leaves the blood going to the body short on oxygen and requires surgery.
When he was just over a year old, Adam underwent the Mustard procedure at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health to correct the condition. At that time, the procedure, which made alterations inside the heart to work with the arteries the way they were, was the standard way to correct the condition. In the late 1980s, the arterial switch, which switches the arteries back to their normal position, replaced the Mustard as the standard procedure.
Adam says for the most part, the surgery allowed him to lead a normal life.
“I knew that physically I was different — I had a scar and got out of breath quicker — but I didn’t let it run my life,” he says.
But in the winter of 2013 his “normal” level of stamina took a hit.
“I knew something wasn’t right,” says Adam. “I started getting short of breath much quicker.”
His cardiologist at IU Health Methodist Hospital had Adam wear a heart monitor for 30 days. They learned that due to scar tissue from the Mustard procedure, Adam had developed a random, extra heartbeat. Further testing confirmed what his doctor suspected: Adam’s heart was beginning to fail and he would eventually need a heart transplant.
“In a normal heart, the left side is stronger and designed to do heavier work,” explains Adam. “Because of my heart defect, the right side of my heart does the heavy work, even though it’s not designed to, and it’s worn out more quickly.”
Adam says the news was a reality check.
“I knew I had a defective heart, but I never thought I’d need a heart transplant,” he says. “The doctor saw how I pushed myself on the treadmill and told me that people in my condition can’t do that. So to hear that your heart is failing and that you need a new heart … it’s a shocker.”
The hope was that medication and Adam’s perseverance in maintaining a healthy lifestyle would help slow his heart’s decline and delay a transplant. However, Adam could tell his heart was getting worse — just walking from his desk to the cafeteria left him winded.
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That summer after a week of tests, Adam’s team of cardiologists, W. Aaron Kay, MD, Marco Caccamo, DO, and Irmina Gradus-Pizlo, MD, delivered the news that he needed a transplant sooner, not later. With the news came their recommendation for a ventricular assist device (VAD), a mechanical pump that’s implanted to help a weak heart pump until a patient has a transplant. The device is attached to the heart and connected with a thin cable that passes through the skin on the abdomen to an external battery-operated controller.
“Dr. Caccamo was very matter of fact, which I respect him for,” recalls Adam. “He said I could get the VAD and prolong the life of my heart, or live out the time I had — they estimated 12 months. I was in no way ready for the second option.”
Adam had the device implanted in July and returned to work in November. He says it’s been a lifestyle change — he carries a small bag over his shoulder that holds the controller, and he needs to plan ahead to make sure it’s fully charged or that he has back-up batteries or the charger with him. But they’re small inconveniences compared to the alternative.
“The pump has helped me feel so much better,” he says. “Physically, I’ve adjusted really well.”
The man of action admits that psychologically, he hit a few speed bumps, however.
“I’m a busy person who can’t sit around,” he says. “It was stressful; I got cabin fever and I felt like life was going on and passing me by.”
Adam says talking with an IU Health psychologist has helped.
“Patients and families go through a lot when you have a VAD and are waiting on a transplant. It’s nice to have someone outside of my situation to talk with,” he says.
Thanks to his vigilance in following a healthy, low-sodium diet and going to cardiac rehabilitation three days a week, Adam’s body is nearly healed and strong enough to go on the transplant list.
“I’ve had to learn to have patience and take things little by little,” says Adam. “I’m recovered and doing very well. My life can go on.”