It’s tough to catch 42-year-old Steve Jensen off guard. After unexpectedly waking up in a hospital bed two times—once after a motorcycle accident and once after life-saving heart surgery—there’s not much that will throw him off.
“Waking up in a hospital bed isn’t foreign to me now,” says the Indianapolis resident.
A motorcycle accident landed Steve in the hospital in 2007. Five years later, it was a heart attack that led to more hospital stays.
The stay-at-home dad to a 7-year-old daughter and 14-year-old triplets woke up coughing, with chest pain and difficulty breathing on Feb. 10, 2012. Steve says he assumed it was his annual bout of bronchitis, not a heart attack.
“I get bronchitis every year,” says Steve. “I never thought it was my heart.”
Tests proved otherwise. Steve says although he had been diagnosed with diabetes and high blood pressure, both were under control, thanks to medication.
A heart attack is just the beginning
After nine days in Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital, Steve went home, but not for long—coughing and difficulty breathing in the middle of the night sent him back to the hospital. He had fluid in his lungs.
On Feb. 22, the last thing Steve remembers is eating dinner; during the night he had a massive heart attack and over the course of the next 24 hours, he had to be resuscitated numerous times.
“They said my heart stopped nine times,” says Steve.
Because his heart needed to rest if it was going to heal and regain function, doctors placed Steve on an external heart pump. The device, which is strapped to the leg and connected by tubes inserted in the groin area, supports the heart by helping it pump blood.
“At that point they were hoping my heart would come back and work well enough on its own,” says Steve.
Despite the pump’s help, Steve’s heart stopped two more times. Doctors weren’t seeing the improvement he needed, so they began looking at the possibility of a heart transplant. However, Steve’s kidneys had shut down, and his overall condition was going to make it difficult to find a match.
Help to heal Steve’s heart
They turned to another type of internal pump—a left ventricular assist device (LVAD)—that is implanted in the upper part of the abdomen. A tube connects the pump to a small external battery pack.
“Their goal was to get me well enough for a transplant,” says Steve. “If that was going to happen, I needed the LVAD.”
It wasn’t until 10 days after the surgery to implant the LVAD that Steve was able to catch up on all he had been through; he’d been unconscious since Feb. 22. After rehabilitation to help him regain his strength, Steve was finally able to go home.
He says although it took some time to get used to it, his life with the LVAD has gone fine.
“Sometimes I forget that it’s there,” he says. “I’ve been healthy, active … the only thing I can’t do with it is swim.”
He’s moving forward after a setback that required him to put plans for a transplant on hold.
“My dad got sick this past November and I put on weight because I spent a lot of time with him in the hospital,” says Steve. “I’m still on the transplant list, but just on hold until I lose the weight.”
He’s working it off slowly, mainly through exercise.
“I could go on a crash diet, but that’s not healthy,” he says. “I’m trying to lose a pound, up to a pound and a half, a week.”
Steve says he’d like to get back to work at least part time, but in the meantime, he keeps busy managing their household, while his wife Emily works on her veterinary technician degree fulltime.
As he waits for his opportunity to get a new heart, he makes the time to take care of himself too, working out at the YMCA, as well as by connecting with other LVAD users through the support group, Second Chance Heart Club.
“I go as often as I can,” says Steve. “I’ve made some good friends there. It’s always great when one of us gets a new heart.”
He says until his turn comes, he’s focused on getting better.
“When the time’s right, it’s going to happen.”