News Release: Emory Healthcare

Nov. 22,  2011

Thanksgiving Extra Special This Year for Athens Man Who Received 100th Heart Assist Device at Emory

News Article ImageVAD Coordinate Kristin Wittersheim, RN, NP, consults with Sean Dookwah on use of his Left Ventricular Assist Device prior to his discharge from Emory University Hospital.

NOTE: Please contact Lance Skelly to arrange for an interview with the patient or physician.

ATLANTA – This year, the Thanksgiving holiday will take on extra special significance for Sean Dookwah, whose new lease on life can be attributed to a ventricular assist heart device he received at Emory University Hospital – the 100th such device installed at Emory.

Dookwah, 39, of Athens, Ga., spent years as a construction worker, which kept him fairly active and fit. However, after pursuing an office-based career in IT, Dookwah fell into a much more sedentary lifestyle, including lack of exercise, poor eating habits, long, stressful hours, all  accompanied  by a 20-year smoking habit.

In June 2009, Dookwah’s lifestyle had finally caught up with him when he felt weak and sick enough to visit the emergency room in Athens.

“I felt weak, tired, sick, terrible. I was not having a heart attack, but it was there that I was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, which is basically a weakening of my heart. That was a wake-up call,” says Dookwah.

Dookwah moved in with his parents, adopted a healthier lifestyle, which included exercise, healthier eating, and dropping the smoking habit. Within about 18 months he dropped almost 150 pounds – from 480 to a current 330 pounds.

“My friends and family have been incredible help and an inspiration to me – helping to keep me encouraged and on track, and some of my friends have even quit smoking themselves – both for me and them. I hope to eventually be added to a heart transplant list, but I have some work to do to still lose weight and get down to a healthier frame.”   

Surgeons at Emory University Hospital in 2006 implanted Georgia's first ventricular assist device (VAD) as a form of destination therapy (in place of a donor transplant) for individuals who are not eligible for--or unwilling to undergo--a heart transplant.

A ventricular assist device is a battery-operated mechanical pump that helps a weakened heart pump blood throughout the body. It is most commonly used as a bridge to transplant for those whose medical therapy has failed and who are hospitalized with end-stage heart failure. More recently, the VAD is providing an alternative to transplant. VADs allow a near normal quality of life, with most patients returning home with their families while they wait for a donor heart to become available.

“This is a tremendous milestone for both our program at Emory and the future of heart assist device technology in general,” says David Vega, MD, professor of surgery and director of the heart transplant program in the Emory Transplant Center at Emory University. “Until fairly recently, surgeons have been implanting VADs as a temporary bridge to heart transplantation. We now have the ability to also offer those patients who are either unable – or unwilling – to undergo a heart transplant to dramatically improve the quality with what we refer to as destination therapy - meaning the device will stay with the patient indefinitely. 

"This technology offers new hope and a much greater quality of life. And with more than five million Americans who suffer from congestive heart failure, with another half million diagnosed each year, this device is a viable, and often-times live-saving - option for our patients,” Vega continued. 

A few days after his surgery, Dookwah will be released for home a day before Thanksgiving, where he will join his family and friends for what very likely will be the most thankful of holidays.

“I feel incredible compared to where I was just a few weeks ago. I was so tired and weak I couldn’t walk from one part of the room to the other,” says Dookwah. Today, I feel alert, strong, healthy and like I could run a marathon. It’s amazing, and I am definitely thankful for everyone who made this possible for me – from the doctors and nurses at Emory – to my friends and family. I can’t wait to get home.”

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The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University is an academic health science and service center focused on missions of teaching, research, health care and public service.

Learn more about Emory’s health sciences:
Blog: http://emoryhealthblog.com
Twitter: @emoryhealthsci
Web: http://emoryhealthsciences.org

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