New lease on life
by Phil Ambroziak
Life doesn’t often grant many second chances. That’s no longer the case, however, as far as Meadow Lake area resident Walter Vidal is concerned.
In early May, Vidal was at death’s door until he became one of only 100 people throughout Canada to have a ventricular assist device (VAD) surgically installed as a means of sustaining his failing heart. Of those 100 people, as few as six are from Saskatchewan.
“I was suffering from congestive heart failure and went to the emergency department at the Meadow Lake Hospital,” Vidal explained. “From there, I was sent by air ambulance to Saskatoon. Three days later I developed atrial fibrillation (abnormal heart rhythm), but they did everything they could to save me.”
However, Vidal’s chances of pulling through long-term were considered slim at best.
“The doctor told my family he didn’t think I was going to live, pointed to the sky and told my wife, ‘It’s up to Him now,’” Vidal continued.
Placed on intravenous therapy, Vidal remained in hospital at Saskatoon for three weeks and appeared to be improving. Whenever he was taken off the IV, however, his health would again decline to the point where doctors determined his only chance to live would be to undergo a heart transplant or receive a VAD.
“He was assessed for a heart transplant, but was not approved because of other health reasons,” noted Vidal’s wife, Elaine. “That’s why so few people have VADs. It’s not that people aren’t getting them, but normally these devices serve as a bridge for patients who later go on to receive a heart transplant.”
Vidal’s VAD procedure took place May 26.
“While I was in the hospital in Saskatoon, I’d gained 50 pounds in fluid, my organs began to shut down and I was reduced to skin and bones,” Vidal said. “Once the VAD started working, I lost that fluid build-up and started to feel a lot better.”
VADs are electromechanical circulatory devices used to partially or completely replace the function of a failing heart. In Vidal’s case, a wire runs through his abdomen and into a pump that’s used to push upward of 400 litres of blood per hour through his body.
“The left side of my heart is basically dead and, because the left ventricle isn’t working, this device pumps blood from the left side into the right side of my heart and, from there, throughout my entire body,” Vidal noted. “I have no pulse and I don’t have a regular blood pressure reading anymore. I also have to wear a controller 24/7, which is powered by two batteries that last approximately 12 hours.”
Vidal was eventually discharged from hospital Aug. 6, but can’t do too much yet because he gets tired and needs frequent rests.
“I’m incredibly thankful to be alive,” he said. “I later found out I had thousands of people praying for me back home in Meadow Lake and through the efforts of friends around the world. It brought me to tears. I couldn’t believe it.”
Meanwhile, Vidal still has to return to Edmonton for regular check ups. This he doesn’t mind, but what he isn’t overly pleased with is how his condition has forced him into an early retirement.
“I operated my own business, Triangle Trenching, for 40 years and now it will never be the same as it was before,” he said. “I installed water and sewer, and septic systems throughout the entire North – from here to the end of the road north of La Loche.
Elaine Vidal, who now serves as her husband’s caregiver, described the last several months as a challenging ordeal. The two have been married 44 years.
“There was a lot of back-and-forth with doctors saying he had less than a five per cent chance,” she said. “I stayed with him the whole time and had no idea what was going to happen. To have it turn out the way it did and for him to have another chance is amazing.”