Lancaster Man Gets New Lease on Life
LANCASTER -- Bob Crocker says he has never felt better.
He is the the first to receive an implanted heart device that helps pump blood throughout his body from UMass Medical Memorial Center in Worcester, allowing him to return to activities like gardening and taking his dog, Dexter, out for a walk.
“In the last month, I’ve got this burst of energy and I don’t know where it came from,” Crocker said. “I feel too good to be cooped up in a room.”
He had a ventricular assist device implanted in the left side of his heart. The golf ball-sized machine connects from the heart to a tube that runs through his body and outside to a battery and computer that Crocker carries around in a medium-sized bag.
Sometimes when doctors listen to his heart with a stethoscope, it sounds like a motor, the Lancaster resident said.
The 64-year-old from Westford has a family history of heart problems and had his first heart attack at 49. He had a triple bypass in 2012 and a defibrillator implanted in his chest two years later, but his heart got worse.
A medical team at UMass Memorial worked with him to look at treatment options, and found that a transplant was the best route.
For patients with weak hearts, a ventricular assist device can be a long-term solution or help for patients waiting to receive a transplant, said Leora Balsam, a cardiac surgeon at UMass Memorial who implanted Crocker’s device in May.
“He’s being ‘bridged’ to a heart transplant,” she said. “His heart is too weak to be able to wait.”
The device has helped stabilize him and improve his quality of life, Balsam said.
Before, Crocker said he couldn’t walk and had to stay in bed. Eventually he progressed to a wheel chair and then a walker.
Since the surgery, he has been able to do more and go to the hospital less often for checkups.
Recovery from the procedure -- which can last between four and eight hours -- was rough for the first few weeks and hurt more than his bypass, Crocker said.
The procedure has also come with challenges, he said, which have included changing his diet, drinking only two liters of water a day, and staying away from water to avoid electrocution.
“It’s been a journey and a half,” Crocker said.
He has also faced other health problems, like problems with his back that required surgery and forced him to retire as a custodian from Westford Public Schools several years ago. Before that he was a graphic designer and served in the U.S. Navy for six years.
Dealing with his back and heart makes him feel like a cat with nine lives, Crocker said.
His girlfriend, Kathy Brosseau, has been a godsend who has supported him through the medical issues, he said. They do everything together since they met eight years ago.
“If it wasn’t for her, I’d be dead,” Crocker said. “I wouldn’t have taken as good care of myself. She pushes me to.”
Brosseau, a former nurse, helps line up his medications and keep track of his appointments, he said. They also go to appointments in Worcester and Boston together.
Crocker doesn’t know how high he is on the transplant list. His time is expected to be up to a few years because of his blood type and because the New England area can have a shortage of organ donors, Balsam said.
He is hoping for a phone call about his new heart, which will be implanted at Tufts Medical Center in Boston.
“It’s the waiting that kills you,” Crocker said.
He has been meeting with the doctors there and getting used to seeing them in the lead up to surgery.
Crocker would like to donate his heart to science and have people study it. He joked that he would be interested in seeing it once it’s taken out of his body.
People who have had transplants and they have told him that they felt like a new person afterward.
His first goal after his transplant is to take out his fishing boat, the Recess, which is sitting in his front yard. Crocker said he misses fishing and hunting and would like to take his sons and Kathy out on the boat.
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