Chris Rackley knew he didn't want a heart transplant, and he was unsure about having a pump called a left-ventricular assist device (LVAD) implanted in his chest. Given his condition, the alternative may have been hospice care.
He'd had bypass surgery five years ago after a heart attack, and he began feeling ill last October. When Dr. Gary Zeevi, medical director of Bon Secours' Advanced Heart Failure Center, saw him in December, he was weak, had no appetite and was experiencing shortness of breath. The heart medicine he was taking was no longer effective.
"He didn't want to have his chest cracked open again," says Rackley's wife, Susan ( pictured with him ). And he wasn't afraid to die. "Everybody believes in heaven, but nobody wants to go there," he says. "I'm not one of those."
But Rackley, a 61-year-old pastor, believes that God still has work for him to do at Elko Union Church in Sandston, which has grown from 40 members to 200 under his leadership during the last 3 1/2 years.
On Feb. 18, Rackley underwent surgery to receive an LVAD. The device, which is the size of two D-cell batteries, sits in a pocket the surgeon makes underneath the heart. One end goes into the left ventricle, the heart's main pumping chamber, Zeevi says. The pump sends blood from another tube to the aorta, the body's largest artery. A cord that comes out of his abdomen connects to a system controller, powered by two rechargeable batteries, that he carries around his waist like a fanny pack. Zeevi says that patients go home with four sets of batteries; each set lasts 10 hours. At night, patients connect the controller to a power module, which plugs into the wall (and contains an internal battery).
Rackley had a setback when he came down with viral pneumonia after his release from the hospital on March 2. Heart surgeon Marc Katz says that without the LVAD, he likely would have been too weak to survive the illness.
On April 10, he was back at Elko Union to deliver his first sermon since before his surgery. The sermon was based on Romans 5: 1-8. In the New International Version, verses 3 and 4 read, "We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope."