Real Patients, Real Stories

Heart procedure returns Nevada man to his "get up and go" lifestyle



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By Alicia Greenleigh

In March 2012, Bill Deist came down with a simple, run-of-the-mill cold. Or so he thought. When his symptoms persisted for months, he decided it was time to see a doctor. What he discovered was a rare case in which a cold virus had begun to attack his heart. The effects were quick and merciless: In just two months, Deist lost a significant amount of weight, had a hard time walking around the house, and was always out of breath.

“I didn’t have the strength, the get up and go, that I’m used to having,” said Deist, 63. “I felt like I was losing control, and like I had to rely on other people in ways I never had to before.”

In short, Deist’s heart was giving up on him, and unless he got help soon, things would worsen drastically.

His local doctor in Winnemucca, Nevada suggested he go to University Hospital where he could get the expert care and attention he needed for his deteriorating condition.

In September, he saw Craig Selzman, M.D., one of the country’s leading heart surgeons and director of the University Hospital’s heart transplant program. Selzman immediately realized that Deist’s heart “was extremely sick” and he would need a transplant.

“The only problem is that there aren’t enough organs to give everyone,” Selzman said. “There are about 70,000-80,000 people in the country who have advanced heart failure, but only about 2,500 transplants a year.”

They decided to give Deist a left ventricular assist device implant, better known as an LVAD. It’s a common surgery for people who need new hearts but aren’t at the top of the transplant list.

“The LVAD gives people in the grey area a chance to get better,” Selzman said.

In Deist’s case, the LVAD is also helping to decrease the blood pressure in his lungs, another side effect of heart failure. This correction may make Deist a viable candidate for a heart transplant in the future.

“I appreciate and admire Dr. Selzman a lot,” Deist said. “He made a point of stopping by personally everyday I was at the hospital to check up on me. He didn’t have to do that, but to receive that kind of care and attention was a wonderful thing.”

Selzman said that success stories like Deist’s are a rewarding part of the health care profession.

“It’s very gratifying for us to give people the opportunity to do the things they want to do again,” Selzman said. “For some, it may be walking to the grocery store or gardening or spending time with their grandkids.”

For Deist, it was returning to work in Winnemucca as the city manager for Humbolt County, a position he’s held for nearly 15 years. Deist’s work ethic is so strong, that he frequently called, sent emails and fixed work issues from his hospital bed while recovering at University Hospital. When he was finally released to go home in early November, Deist said he left on a Sunday and was back in the office on Monday.

“I’m a hands-on kind of person. I have always worked 10 or 12 hours a day,” Deist said.

But given everything he went through, his wife Patti put her foot down, and made him promise to only work eight hours a day from now on.

“He and I have a little pact that he wasn’t going back to work for 10 hours a day, because I wasn’t going to stand for it,” Patti laughed. “I just don’t see the point of pushing himself so hard now that he’s had these problems.”

It’s been a long journey for the Deist family. But Bill Deist would be the first to say that with a matter as delicate and complicated as the heart, Selzman’s work not only affects the physical muscle, but the spirit of what it means to have a heart.

“When your heart is that sick, you forget about the things that make you happy because you’re focused on doing the things necessary for daily living,” Selzman said. “I suppose on some level we’re getting those people back to being happy. There’s no better feeling than seeing them regain their life.”

Alicia Greenleigh is a freelance writer who lives in Salt Lake City.


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