Heart failure patients and families share stories at reunion

Al Dolatoski and his wife, Joyce, sing their rendition of Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” during the LVAD Celebration of Life. Credit: Penn State Health / Penn StateCreative Commons

HERSHEY, Pa. — Al Dolatoski felt short of breath and just didn’t feel well on Dec. 16, so his wife took him to an area hospital. There, he suffered a massive heart attack and underwent emergency heart bypass surgery.

Joyce Dolatoski remembers the panic she felt when he repeatedly coded in the intensive care unit and was resuscitated five times. She was relieved when told that he was being flown to Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

The couple told their story at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center’s annual Left Ventricular Assist Devices (LVAD) Reunion on April 26. The six patients who attended share a history of severe heart failure that required an LVAD to pump blood throughout their bodies. About the size of a D battery, the devices can be used as a bridge to a heart transplant or as an alternative to transplant.

Dolatoski, 72, received his LVAD on Jan. 9 and describe it as life-changing. He uses a wheelchair but is learning to walk again and now feels well enough to work from home.

“I’m getting stronger,” he said. His wife said his kidney and cardiac function are so improved that he no longer needs dialysis and, in a rare turn of events, will eventually have the LVAD removed.

“They told him he was a miracle,” she said. “The LVAD team is great.”

The reunion was a celebration of life, with dinner, a cake and even karaoke music. “I Got You Babe,” the Dolatoskis sang to each other.

“It’s a pleasure to see how well everyone is doing,” said Dr. Howard Eisen, an advanced heart failure and transplant cardiology specialist, looking around the room. The group laughed when he described the old cardiac device’s noisy clicking sound that used to require him to speak very loudly at such gatherings.

Eisen has worked with ventricular assist devices since 1993. “It’s unbelievable how much the technology has improved since then,” he said. Hershey Medical Center uses the newest LVAD, the HeartMate III, which increases patients’ survivability and lowers the risk of stroke and gastrointestinal bleeding compared to older models.

Patients can expect to live 10 or more years with an LVAD, and the technology and treatment options are always improving.

Read the full article on Penn State Medicine.

Last Updated May 16, 2019