DANVILLE — With Thanksgiving only a couple weeks away, Rick Kurth of Danville is giving thanks to his care team at OSF HealthCare Sacred Heart Medical Center in Danville.
The 72-year-old Kurth, a former attorney who now works at the Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System with Freedom of Information Act requests and privacy matters and also is co-owner of the Danville Dans baseball team, had been dealing with a virus in the left ventricle of his heart since 2004.
Kurth was fitted for a defibrillator in his chest and prescribed certain medication, and it pretty much took care of everything, he said.
“I had no limitations. I really don’t have any limitations now,” Kurth said. “But then with covid and everything, I don’t know if that affected me at all or not. But my ejection fraction went from 15 to 5, and I could only walk like 50 feet at a time or something like that, I don’t know.”
An ejection fraction is a measurement of how much blood the left ventricle pumps out with each contraction.
In March, Kurth was at an Indianapolis hospital, and he thought he was going home after some tests.
Kurth said it was supposed to be a regular check-up.
But it was shocking when doctors told him his heart was not pumping enough blood.
It was then Kurth learned about a left ventricular assist device (LVAD). He turned it down initially but changed his mind when talking with his wife, Dianne.
“The doctor said basically you have about six months to live,” Kurth said. “It was a no brainer.”
An LVAD is a pump used for patients who have reached end-stage heart failure. The battery-operated LVAD is surgically implanted and helps the left ventricle pump blood to the rest of the body.
LVADs improve and extend heart failure patients’ lives. Some LVAD patients receive a heart transplant, so the device is temporary. Others, like Kurth, are not transplant candidates, so the equipment is permanent. LVADs have some limitations, such as around water.
Kurth said the LVAD’s monitor and two batteries, that he wears under his clothing, is what he’s living on right now.
At night, he takes it all off, and it plugs into a socket.
“It goes through my body, to the left of my navel, up into the heart, and then it pumps it up through another tube up to the aorta and then it distributes the blood and oxygen,” Kurth said.
“I have to say that I feel so much better than I have for years because I wasn’t getting much oxygen. So, it’s great,” Kurth said.
Kurth goes to the Danville hospital three days a week to exercise.
“They do a phenomenal job here with the people,” he added about the hospital staff.
In July 2022, Rick enrolled in cardiac rehabilitation at OSF HealthCare Sacred Heart Medical Center in Danville. Patients exercise to rebuild their strength as health care professionals monitor them.
Kurth recently graduated from cardiac rehab to community fitness, where patients can come to the hospital gym as they please.
Brittney Cromwell, exercise physiologist and coordinator of cardiac rehab at OSF Sacred Heart, said there are symptoms to look for if someone is worried about their health.
“I think the big thing is just paying attention to any changes within your body. If you have any changes in terms of, am I more short of breath doing my normal activities or am I more tired than usual doing my normal activities, those would be kind of red flags or warning signs of maybe I need to bring these things up to my doctor and get things checked out,” Cromwell said.
In cardiac rehab, the staff see patients who have had chest pain who are being treated medically and those who are not maybe candidates for interventions. They also see patients who have had open heart surgery, valve surgery, heart transplants, LVADs, heart attacks and some who undergo stent placements.
When someone comes to cardiac rehab, the staff finds out what are a patient’s risk factors for heart disease, and what got them there. Then the hospital employees will work with the patients on the risk factors and the patients will undergo a lot of education, such as on coronary artery disease. Then they get the patients exercising to get their heart stronger, improve their cardiac output, and overall improve their vitals and endurance.
With Kurth, he was referred to OSF Sacred Heart from an outside facility for his rehab.
“When coming here, he started off very low level. He was pretty deconditioned; his heart function was pretty low,” Cromwell said. “Since then, we’ve really seen him kind of flourish. He continues to do his cardio and his strength training. Every day he comes in, he pushes himself to get better and better.”
Now, his endurance is way better, Cromwell said. He just has really improved overall. He’s now joined the gym and continues to exercise.
“This story is pretty remarkable. LVADs are a big deal,” she added about seeing Kurth first come in when he was really weak and now has gotten stronger.
She said they’ve been seeing more people with LVADs to improve lifestyles.
Those who go to cardiac rehab are physician referred and go for up to 36 sessions, two to three times a week for an hour.
Kurth encourages people to look into steps to improve their health, such as community fitness.
“I try to encourage some of my friends that have trouble breathing and have had heart problems to come here and just work out because they’ll feel so much better,” he said. “When I first came here and they said you had to do this, I kind of blew it off because I thought you have to be kidding me, what’s this going to do for me?”
“If I hadn’t done this, my lifestyle would be a lot, lot different. Now I’m normal again, or better than normal,” Kurth said.
He too wants to inform people about LVADs.
“I want people to be aware of this. So many people, especial in a smaller community, very few people have had this done,” he said.
Even where he was in Indianapolis, they do about 50 a year, Kurth said.
The caregiver is so important too, Kurth added about appreciating his wife in helping him with the bandage around where the tube goes in his body and changing the dressing every night.