A tall, rugged twenty-year old at Rutgers University, Joe Deen spent a lot of time outdoors, hiking, backpacking and working at a Boy Scout camp. In 2006, he developed brachycardia, an unusually slow heartbeat, that doctors linked to Lyme disease. But when the tests for Lyme were inconclusive and the problem persisted, Joe received a pacemaker.
One year later, he was diagnosed with heart block and learned that he was in the early stages of congestive heart failure.
In 2009, just months after his graduation, Joe's heart wasn't pumping enough blood. Dr. Yoshifumi Naka performed an emergency LVAD surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia.
"I wasn't surprised when I woke up with this device," Joe says, "I'd already been to a VAD clinic where my nurse told me what to expect. After the implant the VAD team taught me how to respond to device's signals and alarms, and how to keep track of my battery power. They were all so upbeat that I soon got the hang of it."
A few months after Joe was discharged, he took a job at a hotel working at the front desk. "I was wearing a suit jacket so most people didn't even notice I was wearing a VAD," he says. "I realized it was all about gaining confidence and doing things according to your comfort level."
Soon Joe was lacing on his hiking boots. "Normally I'd just take off on the spur of the moment to go into the woods for a few days," he says, "But I had to stay near the hospital because I was on the transplant list. That meant day trips to the Palisades or to World's End Park in Western Pennsylvania. It felt great to dip my toes into a creek."
Joe also entered a 5K Heart Walk in New York City, just eight months after receiving his VAD. His goal was to complete it faster than his cardiologist: he succeeded.
Joe's still went to parties with his college friends and to weekly Trivia night. And he also met new people as he tapped into the growing LVAD community.
"Around the time of my implant, Dick Cheney got an assist device. Then a woman with a VAD went on Good Morning America," Joe recalls. "So this device was in the news. Soon there were a couple of Facebook groups for LVAD people."
"If you did an online search for VAD two years ago, you got a lot of scholarly articles." Joe says. "Today you'll find a lot of real life stories, patient blogs and even posts on YouTube. The take-home message is: You really can incorporate this device into your normal life."
On Oct 24th 2010, Dr. Naka removed Joe's VAD and performed a heart transplant. "The VAD used to sit there humming like a turbine," Joe says. "After the transplant, I was so excited to hear a heart beat, it took a while for me to fall asleep."