11/08/17

Heart recipient: ‘I’m strong. I want that for others, too.’

James recuperates after his recent heart transplantJames Williams knows all too well that living with heart failure is hard.

“You can’t imagine the mental strain and drain of this disease. As I got sicker, it was on my mind all the time,” he said. “At your lowest low, you don’t know if there’s going to be a tomorrow.”

Today, he’s determined to make each tomorrow matter.

“You don’t learn how to live until you almost die,” said Williams, who worked closely with care teams at Carle Heart & Vascular Institute and in St. Louis to cope with the disease for more than a decade. He spent a year and a half on an LVAD (left ventricular assist device), which kept his weakened heart beating through a complex system of wires and batteries until his heart transplant February 1.

Hundreds of community members learned more about what Williams and others like him must do to be their healthiest at Living with Heart Failure. During the free event, Williams served as emcee, and Carle experts shared guidance for managing the disease. Topics during dinner included:

  • The Burden of Heart Failure
  • The Basics: Heart Failure Self-Care
  • Medication Management in Heart Failure
  • Following a Heart-Healthy, Low-Sodium Diet

James Williams, heart transplant recipient, with cardiologist Dr. Andrea Brasch. Dr. Andrea Brasch, Williams’s cardiologist, credits a true team approach to caring for patients with heart failure and those who receive transplants.

“It takes a village, and that’s true with caring for James. From Dr. Reinaldo Sanchez-Torres’s initial diagnosis, to our team referring the patient to Barnes, to our nurse practitioners, nurses and so many others, about 50 people here at Carle helped—and continue to help—James,” she said.

Carle Heart Failure Clinic Coordinator Noah J. Schroeder, RN, CCRN, CHFN, touts Williams’s dedication to staying on top of his disease. Williams received his heart failure diagnosis when he saw his doctor for what seemed like a bad case of the flu.

The chest congestion and chills just wouldn’t go away.

“James is an incredibly positive person. He learned along the way how to take care of his heart, and he’s fantastic about sharing what he knows with other to help them cope and be their healthiest,” Schroeder said. 

While not everyone with heart failure is a candidate for transplant, Williams’s age and otherwise healthy body and mind helped position him for success.

“I had complications right after my VAD surgery, so they had to do a second open-heart procedure within days. My body was blasted,” Williams said, describing a completely different transplant experience.

“I went in, and it felt like they ran the clock backwards 15 years.”

James Williams return to the Eastern Illinois University police force.Williams returned to the Eastern Illinois University police force in August.

“I got goosebumps when I put my uniform back on,” said the Desert Storm veteran who one day hopes to meet the family of the heart donor.

“I can’t even put into words how grateful I am that people choose to donate their organs or the organs of loved ones. I am extremely thankful to my donor family, and I am blessed to have a second chance.”

And the impact remains crystal clear.

“Every day at some point, I think how far I’ve come—mentally, physically and spiritually. I wasn’t sure I’d make it sometimes. I doubted myself sometimes, but because of doctors, nurses, friends and family, I cleared some huge hurdles,” he said.

“I’m stable. I’m healthy. I’m strong. I want that for others, too.”

Living with Heart Failure funding provided by Carle Center for Philanthropy.