Area man stays active, pays it forward while waiting for a new heart

In 2007, James Williams was 38-years old, a Marine veteran of Operation Desert Storm, a law enforcement officer and the owner of a health club.

You can imagine the Ashmore resident’s shock when he started feeling sick and doctors told him he had congestive heart failure.

"I would walk from the couch to the door and be totally winded,” Williams said.

"I was knocking on death's door."

Specialists at Carle Heart and Vascular Institute recommended a Left Ventricular Assistance Device (LVAD). A LVAD pumps blood because the heart is too weak to do the job. Williams had the LVAD placed in October 2014.

"The difference was night and day. I can say I feel almost normal," Williams said. "I work out three times a week, I can take care of my grandparents, and I have energy to visit all my family," Williams added.

"My nieces and nephews call me Robocop."

In 2014, Carle and Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis agreed to work together to serve LVAD patients in central Illinois.

"It is much more convenient for me to go to Carle for follow-up. They have excellent physicians who make sure my LVAD is functioning," he said.

Williams is on the waiting list for a heart transplant. The LVAD is keeping him alive while he waits.

"If a person had heart failure 30 years ago, there wasn't much we could do for them when they got to the end of the disease, except wait for a heart transplant and pray a donor heart became available," said Noah Schroder, RN, coordinator of Carle Heart Failure Clinic.

"There are so many technologies and medicines today that can improve people's lives. They can even thrive while living with heart failure. We work closely with heart failure patients to treat their symptoms, increase their quality of life and help them make smart choices."

Carle's work with heart failure patients has been nationally recognized. Healthgrades gave Carle a five-star rating for treatment of heart failure. Healthgrades also named Carle one of America's 100 Best Hospitals™ for Cardiac Care.

Williams uses his time today to educate more people about LVAD technology.

"I talk to first responders about the special needs of a LVAD patient. I also participate in the Carle LVAD support group to help people in my situation. We all learn something new from each other," Williams said.

"I want to pay it forward."