Twin brothers support each other after heart failures
SUMMIT, N.J. (AP) — Edwin Roman nudged his way into the world 60 seconds before his fraternal twin 24 years ago.
He recently had to take the lead again — this time as a caregiver — when his younger brother Edward’s heart began to fail last November.
Edward didn’t know what was happening. He had trouble climbing the stairs in the Summit apartment they share. Riding his bike was a struggle. He was coughing for air. His ankles swelled to the size of his calf.
“He (Edwin) gave me a heads up of what was going on,” Edward said.
Edward’s heart was breaking down like his brother, Edwin’s had, and like that of their late mother, Regina Holmes — a heart transplant recipient who died in 2017. She was 46-years-old and had developed cardiomyopathy, an enlarged heart that becomes progressively weaker over time.
She worried when Edwin had trouble catching his breath at 18. Like her, he had cardiomyopathy. Edward would be diagnosed with it, too.
The older brother, Edwin, would be OK for the next six years with medication. He majored in sports management at Union County College until his heart started giving out on him again. The timing couldn’t have been worse.
Edward’s heart was failing when he sent Edwin a picture of his swollen ankles. It was two weeks before Thanksgiving and he needed help right away. His heart function was gravely low, his kidneys were causing him pain when checked back into the hospital.
“Everything went downhill,” Edward said.
Medication wasn’t the answer. He needed a heart, but since the rules changed for how they are allocated, it wasn’t an immediate option. His doctors at the Heart Success Program at Morristown Medical Center suggested a surgery to implant a “Left-Ventricular Assist Device” — a battery-operated, mechanical pump known as the LVAD. It would be implanted to help Edward’s left ventricle, or the main chamber of the heart, pump blood to the rest of his body.
“I was nervous, but I knew what was happening,” Edward said.
Edwin, ironically, needed the device, too. But since Edward was in worse shape, Edwin delayed his procedure, so that the younger twin could receive the LVAD first for a heart condition that generally doesn’t surface until someone is in their 40s.
“Cardiomyopathy is getting younger and younger,” said Linda Suplicki, a registered nurse practitioner and coordinator of the VAD program at the Heart Success Program of Morristown Medical Center.
When Edward’s surgery was done in December, someone had to look after him for six to eight weeks. That was Edwin. He led the way when they were born, and he was doing it again, giving new meaning to sacrifice and what it is to be a “Big Bruh.”
The brothers live together, and their household was down to one income. Both worked behind the counter at the Village Trattoria in Summit.
Edwin should have stopped, but he didn’t. He sucked it up for Edward, working 12-hour shifts with one day off.
“That was tough,” he said.
He barely had enough energy after work to visit his brother in the hospital. But he did, shuffling along every day, struggling to breathe. His body retained water, so he was bloated and felt 10 pounds heavier.
“I give him credit for holding off for so long,” Edward said.
Louie Scaff, owner of the pizzeria, loves them both like sons. The brothers — Edwin has been at the eatery seven years, and Edward for five — were his main workers who ran the place in Scaff’s absence. So, when Edward had to be hospitalized, Edwin didn’t want to leave Scaff without help.
“He’s a workaholic,” Scaff said. “It’s not in him to call out sick. I would say, ’You go home. It’s not about me no more.”
It was about loyalty and two brothers who love another.
But by February, Edward was taking care of his older sibling, who was ready tired of being sluggish. A few weeks after Edward’s surgery, Edwin had his LVAD implanted.
They have to plug into a wall unit while their batteries charge overnight. Away from home, they carry a computer device known as a controller with the batteries. Everything is either in a backpack or special vest, but the brothers prefer to use a satchel with a strap slung over their shoulder. It weighs about 10 pounds. Two cords from the controller feed into one main line that is connected to the LVAD pump inside of them.
They’ve adjusted and stay on one another about eating right. Lots of fruits and vegetables. Everything is baked. Nothing is fried. No salty meats, either, and forget about alcohol.
A GoFundMe page was set up by a co-worker to help with medical bills and expenses. The brothers praise the Summit community for coming to their aid. So far, $132,000 has been raised. It’s easy to see why once you meet them. They’ve had major surgery and are incredibly upbeat.
“We don’t think about it much,” Edwin said.
They carry the spirit of their mother, whom Edwin said, taught them let go of what they can’t control.
“It is what it is,” Edward said.
Eventually, the brothers will need new hearts. Suplicki said it’s difficult say when that happens.
It’s OK with the fellas. They’re patient. They’re alive, and this experience has made them closer than 60 seconds that separated them at birth.
“We were there for each other more than anybody else,” Edwin said.
Information from: NJ.com, http://www.nj.com