Farmer faithfully ensures his donor heart is in top form

Brad Andrews is always on the go.

But in 2014, the 61-year-old Danville-area farmer was clinging to life and hoping for a new heart.

"I never had any pain. I was just tired and weak," Andrews said. "Doctors diagnosed me with heart murmur in 1971. They replaced my mitral valve in 2005. I had several other procedures and finally had to have a mechanical LVAD pump my blood in June of 2014."

Andrews' cardiologist, Andrea Brasch, MD, worked with him for 10 years before his LVAD surgery.

"Heart failure is a progressive condition so we worked with him every step of the way at Carle Heart Failure Clinic," Dr. Brasch remembered.

Andrews had a series of procedures including a mitral valve replacement, a defibrillator, medication and rehab. Still, over time with the nature of his progressive condition, his heart weakened.

"Mr. Andrews was in such bad shape in 2014, he had no choice but to have LVAD surgery if he wanted to live," Dr. Brasch said. "It was a long, hard, 10 years of work leading up to LVAD surgery, but fortunately we have procedures, medicine and technology to keep people alive while they wait for a new heart."

Andrews got an LVAD implant in Saint Louis and Carle specialists collaborated in his care after surgery to make sure the device worked well.

While Andrews' life improved with the LVAD, he happily received a new heart in November 2014.

"With my new heart I have energy to enjoy my family and work on the farm. I am so grateful someone decided to be an organ donor. That decision helped me live," Andrews said.

After rehab he is back to his busy farming lifestyle. But, Andrews still takes time to help others dealing with heart failure.

Even in the middle of harvest, Andrews goes to heart failure support group meetings at Carle.

"When I first had my LVAD, I came to the support group and loved it. I became friends with many of the people there," Andrews said.

"Now that I have a new heart, I want to pay it forward and help people who have a LVAD and are looking for a matching heart donor."

And faithful trips to the doctor keep Andrews and his new heart in top condition.

Specialists at Carle Heart and Vascular Institute have many tools to manage his progress.

"Mr. Andrews and other heart transplant recipients can come to Carle and doctors make sure they’re healthy," said Noah Schroeder, RN, coordinator at Carle Heart Failure Clinic.

"By getting check-ups here they don't have to travel to Saint Louis or Chicago every few weeks or months to see their heart failure specialist or transplant team," Schroeder said.

"Living with heart failure, a LVAD or a heart transplant is hard work and a commitment,” Schroeder said.  

Brad Andrews says it’s a small price to pay for the gift of life. He looks forward to more years farming, spending time with his wife and 13 grandchildren and helping people facing heart failure, LVAD therapy or a heart transplant.

"I want to help others and encourage them. That is the best thing I can give," Andrews said.