Elderly LVAD recipient reaches 10 year milestone, inspires others

Updated: Jan. 9, 2021 at 7:13 PM CST
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MANKATO, Minn. (KEYC) - Eighty-four year-old Gayle Wilkerson holds the honor of living on a left ventricular assist device, or LVAD, for 10 years. The device allows a person who has severe advanced heart failure to still have a reasonable quality of life.

“It has kept me going,” she said. It’s an achievement only a few patients in the U.S. have ever obtained.

Dr. Niti Aggarwal, a Cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato, stated, “With the LVAD, her quality of life improved dramatically, and living 10 years for an 84-year-old woman is absolutely astounding.”

The device is implanted in a patient’s chest to pump blood from the left ventricle of the heart to the rest of the body. A control unit and battery pack are worn outside the body and are connected to the device through a port in the skin.

“If she did not have the LVAD, she was likely going to suffer with a lot of heart failure, being hospitalized in and out, you know, shortness of breath, that sort of thing,” Aggarwal added.

Gayle hopes the news of this milestone brings attention to women’s heart disease, the most common killer of women in the United States.

“The importance is being aware that heart disease is the #1 killer, knowing your risk factors, as we talked about, and if women are having symptoms, shortness of breath, chest discomfort, fluttering in their chest, any of those things, seeking medical help and not ignoring them,” Aggarwal mentioned.

February marks American Heart Month across the U.S., when millions of people sport the color red in an effort to promote heart health. By focusing on the significance of heart-healthy lifestyles, the hope is to have more women, like Gayle, living long years with a wonderful quality of life.

“I have a nice family and everything, and I don’t want to leave them,” Wilkerson remarked.

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