So about mid-morning I was sitting on a bench outside the Discount Tire Co. near Shea and Scottsdale Road in Scottsdale, AZ. It’s the monsoon season here in Arizona. While I was waiting to have my tires rotated and balanced, rain was giving the Sonoran Desert a drink. Water was dripping off the awning, splashing on my sandals.
A tall guy named Steve with a 6-foot-long walking stick strode up and sat down beside me on the bench. I’d say Steve himself is 6’2″ but not any more than 150 pounds. He toted a padded, black, lunch-box size bag attached to a strap hanging from his right shoulder. Noticeable was a piece of gauze taped inside Steve’s right arm.
Steve and I started talking. He is from Las Cruces, New Mexico, where at age 75 he’s still working as a physicist. I ask him what brought him to Phoenix on this Monday, July 24.
Rather nonchalantly he said, “Well, I am back here to get my LVAD checked for the first time since I left here June 30. I just got done with my appointment.”
“You are here to get your LVAD checked? I bet you can guess my next question.”
“I can. An LVAD is a Left Ventricular Assist Device.”
Steve then matter-of-factly described the device and the battery back attached to the strap he wore over his shoulder.
A woman named Jan was with Steve. Sitting down between Steve and me, she introduced herself and said, “We’ve been together 24 years.”
“A beautiful woman between two thorns,” Steve said, smiling.
“Do you ever hear the pump?” I asked.
“Can you hear it when you go to bed and it’s really quiet?”
“Not even then,” Steve said, “but I bet you can hear it.”
“You bet I can hear it?”
“Sure. More over next to me and have a listen.”
Jan immediately stood up, making room for me to scoot over on the bench next to Steve. Steve sat up and directed me to place my ear right onto the middle of his chest. “Right here,” he said, pointing directly to his sternum.
As I moved my head and right ear toward Steve’s chest, I noticed 6 or 7 people milling around the tire shop, some standing 15 feet from the bench where Steve, Jan and I sat talking.
“Don’t worry,” Jan said, laughing, “I don’t think they’ll turn us in.”
So I just followed Steve’s instructions. Sure enough, I heard the rhythmic, “hum … hum … hum … hum,” of the VLAD.
“Wow,” I said, “That’s amazing.”
“Sure is,” he said. “You know I actually don’t have a detectable pulse. This machine does everything.” He said having other people hear it working soothes him, since he can’t personally hear the VLAD doing its living-giving job.
Shaking my head back and forth, I merely said again, “Amazing.”
For the next 10 minutes, we talked about the whole ordeal. The surgery was May 10 here in Phoenix at the world-renown Mayo Clinic.
“I was here in Phoenix from the end of April until July 1. Then we returned to New Mexico. Now we are back for our first check-up. I had an early morning appointment. “All is well. The said, ‘Keep living. Everything looks great.'”
“Wow. Well, congratulations.”
“They tell me surgeons around the world are doing about a thousand of these a year, including right here at Mayo in Phoenix, where they do a lot of them. They have made great strides with these devices in the last decade. I’m telling you, the technology has improved vastly, just vastly.”
“Thank God,” Jan said, adding that she is very optimistic. 10 years is the longest anyone has lived with an LVAD, she said. “But Steve is going to break that record!”
“Why don’t you double that, Steve?” I said.
“I hope I can.”
“I think he will,” Jan said.
Just then the Discount Tire Co. tech pulled my car up. “You’re all done.”
Steve and I shook hands. Just then Steve was telling Jan he wanted to walk next door to a cafe and get an egg sandwich.
“I might have a root beer float, too. I’ve lost a lot of weight. They tell me to eat all the calories I want. A root beer float sounds good.”
“I sure wish you both all the best. You hang in there, Steve.”
“I’m going to try,” Steve said. “God Bless.”
Pulling my Honda Accord door shut, I nodded and said, “God bless you, too.”