Rare heart surgery gives local veteran new lease on life

Veterans Voices

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Organ shortages mean there’s age priority when it comes to transplant procedures.

What if you were told you’re too old for a heart trasplant?

Well, the medical team at Rochester General hospital has a solution, and for one local military veteran, that solution is helping him continue his service to the community.

“Last couple years, I was getting short of breath,” said veteran Wayne Walker.

Walker is an Army and Air Force veteran of the Vietnam era. He’s pushing 80 years old, and with some medical issues, he went to the doctor’s office and was told some bad news.

“He says ‘you need a heart transplant, but your too old,” Walker said.

The team at RGH had an alternative way to keep Walker pumping. It’s called an L-VAD procedure and only 10 have been done at RGH. It’s got a pump and batteries to carry around, but Walker isn’t complaining.

“Well, it’ something that I need,” Walker said. “”If it wasn’t for it, I wouldn’t be here.”

And Walker has a lot of responsibilities that need him here — including a large family and honor guard duties near his home in LeRoy — and the technology that saved him is unique.

Dr. Scott Feitell with RGH says the mechanical heart pump is inserted surgically, with a wire coming out of the stomach, plugged into batteries.

“Often times patients make the analogy of the ‘Six Million Dollar Man’, which is quite appropriate at times for many reasons,” said Dr. Feitell. “Since then, he’s been living at home with really no heart failure symptoms which is amazing.”

Wayne’s nurse in physical therapy says with his rapid recovery, he had support both on the medical side of the house, and outside.

“Wayne had a very, very supportive family which is very helpful for these patients,’ said Katherine Curran, registered nurse.

And that family was there to surprise Walker, including the local American Legion and first responders — even his local State Senator and Assemblyman. They came to proclaim “Wayne Walker Day” highlighting his career and continued service.

“His whole life has been service to the community, and really puts the community above his self-interest,” said New York State Sen. Mike Ransenhofer.

The whole occasion pretty much left Walker speechless, and his heart pumping healthily with excitement.

“Never expected that … wow,” Walker said.

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