On a New Mission

Leading up to this summer's opening of the Nancy and Harold Zirkin Heart & Vascular Hospital at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, we will be sharing a series of stories that provide a glimpse into the lives of some of our heart and vascular patients, the care they received and what life has been like for them since being treated. Today we visit with retired Navy Admiral, Tim Heely. 

An Unexpected Trip To The Hospital

Tim Heely, a retired Navy Admiral and F-18 pilot, has always been very active and diligent about his health. One night, after his daily run of about 5 miles, Tim started to experience pain in his arm and had difficulty catching his breath. True to his nature as a navy pilot, Tim was predisposed to not go to the doctor and decided to wait it out. He thought he merely had a case of pneumonia and never expected to eventually need a heart transplant.

Eventually, Tim’s wife convinced him to see a doctor, and they went to MedStar St. Mary’s hospital close to their home in Southern Maryland. Within minutes, Tim was being sent to MedStar Washington Hospital Center in D.C. Once they arrived, Tim had a couple of stents implanted by the time his wife was able to park the car and enter the building.

Tim had had a heart attack that did so much damage, his heart was unable to sustain itself. Tim says, “I like to think that when I went in [St. Mary’s] they knew exactly where to send me and who to call. There’s strength in having that tie.”

New Wingmen, A New Heart

Tim explains, “As a navy pilot, I took risks every day and loved it. I learned to trust my training, my aircraft and my wingmen.”

Throughout the course of 5 days, Tim put his full trust in the heart and vascular team at MedStar Washington as they worked diligently to stabilize his heart. Unfortunately, Tim’s body rejected each treatment attempt. It was then decided that a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) would be the best option while he waited for a new heart.

Tim received the LVAD on May 17th, 2011 and enjoyed good health for 2 years, until a complication meant that it was time for a heart transplant.

On May 7th, 2013, Tim received a new heart.

“Thanks to the doctors and the nurses I’m back alive and I shouldn’t be,” Tim recounts. He remembers one specific instance during the beginning of his care when his body was rejecting multiple treatments. One resident was really putting in the extra effort. She noticed something was wrong, made phone calls and spent a lot of time trying to figure out what was going on.

When Tim received his heart transplant, he recognized the voice of one of his doctors, the same resident that had put so much attention to his care nearly 3 years before. Tim expressed his gratitude, “There's like 3-5 times where someone really made a difference, and if they weren’t there I would have been dead, this was one of those times.”

Transplant Triathlons

Although Tim decided not to return to work due to a stressful commute, he has started his own company and is also taking part in his own self-run transplant triathlons. He walks, kayaks and bikes multiple miles a day. “I feel really good. I want to be the guy that didn’t let this get him down. I wanna be the guy where people say ‘can you believe what this guy did?’ ”

Since that day, Tim has seen all of his children marry, and he now has 2 grandsons. “I’m very grateful and I feel in a lot of ways better than I felt before because I’ve died and come back and everything means a little bit more to me. Every day I wake up and I thank my donor and the donor’s family.”

Tim has also served as a mentor for other patients receiving care at the MedStar Washington Heart and Vascular Institute, “I’ve mentored about 6 people on getting the LVAD or getting a heart transplant. I like telling them that there is hope.”

Tim shares that getting a heart transplant “...was a very good learning experience on so many levels. Everyone has a problem and you may just not know it. None of us is perfect, we all have something.”

Have any questions?

We are here to help! Contact us for more information about heart transplants or to schedule an appointment. Call us at 202-877-3627.

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Building a Future

Leading up to this summer's opening of the Nancy and Harold Zirkin Heart & Vascular Hospital at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, we will be sharing a series of stories that provide a glimpse into the lives of some of our heart and vascular patients, the care they received and what life has been like for them since being treated. Today, we visit with Alberto Gomez. 

Advanced Heart Failure Takes its Toll

Alberto Gomez is the owner of a Washington, D.C.-based construction company who has always enjoyed good health, and who has rarely spent much time with doctors aside from yearly physical examinations.

However, noticeable fatigue and discomfort led him to seek care at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. At the age of 66, Alberto was diagnosed with advanced heart failure. He was given the sobering news that his heart was functioning at an estimated 15%, and that he would need a heart transplant in order to survive.

“It was a very sobering experience to come from not having seen doctors in a long time to seeing them every day, to every 5 minutes, to every 15 minutes,” shares Alberto.

A Second Chance

After meeting with Dr. Ezequiel Molina, a cardiac surgeon at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, Alberto learned that he was a candidate for a new technology called Left Ventricular Assist Device or LVAD, a device that is implanted into the chest that supports the pumping function of the heart. This would be his lifeline until he was able to receive a heart transplant.

After receiving the LVAD, Mr. Gomez suffered complications, such as strokes, that left him with limited movement and speech impairments. Throughout this process, he received a lot of therapy and encouragement from his team at MedStar, “and the smiles,” says Alberto. “I tell a lot of jokes so I can laugh when people laugh, and I can enjoy them when they enjoy them.”

Alberto’s willingness to work in conjunction with the doctors, as well as the holistic approach to care that Alberto received from the team at MedStar, made a huge impact on his recovery process. He shares that, “the support one receives from the professional staff, the administrative staff, the nurses, and everyone around, they create the environment for recovering much faster than it would normally take.”

A New Heart

On November 9, 2014, Alberto received a call from Jessica Rice, a heart transplant coordinator at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, letting him know that a matching heart had been found.

On December 10, 2014, the same influential team at the Hospital Center that worked with Alberto to diagnose and treat his advanced heart failure with the LVAD device, helped implant his new heart. Continuing his care with the same team was paramount in his process. “They knew what was inside, they knew what they had to take out, and now they knew how they were going to transplant the new organ in,” says Alberto. “My doctors were not just my doctors. They were my friends, they became part of the family, they were my confidence.”

Back To The Business Of Life

Alberto is still growing accustomed to life with his new heart. His motto is, “it’s not a fast race, it’s a race of endurance. It’s not how fast I go, it’s how secure I get there.” He is much more careful with how he cares for his body, he is more aware of the movements he makes and is careful not to put too much strain on his muscles until he recovers his full strength.

Now, Alberto is back to running his construction business, Prince Construction, with a keener outlook on life.

Alberto wakes up each day with gratitude, “you appreciate now what used to be somebody else’s heart, and it’s a heart that you take care of and every day the first thing you do is thank God for being alive and pray for the donor and the family who were generous enough to allow their sibling to provide a heart for you to keep living.”

He wants others experiencing a weakened heart or coping with advanced heart failure to know that, “there is hope that there are ways to overcome it, and with faith and determination and with professional knowledge of the doctors you are in great shape to recover."

Have any questions?

We are here to help! Contact us for more information about advanced heart failure or to schedule an appointment. Call us at 202-877-3627.

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