LVAD Patient Impresses His Doctors: “They called me ‘The Rock’”

Francis Joseph “Joe” Pratt III, a former executive chef, suffered from advanced heart failure. 

His health had deteriorated so much in the years following his heart attack in 1997 that he and his wife, Marsha, had to retire, leave their home in Ohio, and move closer to a son in Fredericksburg, Va., who could give them extra help.

Joe Pratt, Dr. Daniel Tang and Regina Volman

By 2011, “his activity level really went down. He was just limping along,” said Mrs. Pratt.

One day his cardiologist gave it to him straight. “He said, ‘Joe, I can’t do anything else,’” recalled Pratt.

His doctor referred him to Dr. Keyur Shah, medical director of the Mechanical Circulatory Support program at the VCU Pauley Heart Center. Dr. Shah believed Pratt could improve with an LVAD (left ventricular assist device), a device that aids the heart in pumping.

Pratt met with VCU cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Daniel Tang, who told him about the risks and potential benefits of the surgery, as well as the lifestyle changes he would need to make—such as not being able to take showers for a while and being tethered to a battery-charging machine at night.

Dr. Tang “was very likable, just the way he talks to you—the way he explains everything,” said Pratt. “And he wasn’t in a hurry.”

After overcoming some reservations, Pratt underwent a 10½- hour surgery to implant the LVAD on June 30, 2011. Although he experienced some complications during the surgery, his recovery went better than expected. He didn’t have to go on dialysis, and got out of the hospital in three weeks instead of six—an amazing feat, considering his medical history of not only heart disease but diabetes and prostate cancer as well.

“They called me ‘The Rock,’” said Pratt, with a laugh.

But at age 75, “Mr. Pratt nicely demonstrates that age is truly just a number,” said Dr. Tang. “Despite being one of our oldest LVAD patients, he has done extremely well.”

Pratt is now able to walk in grocery stores instead of relying upon a motorized cart. He goes fishing with his wife, and even drives them to Ohio several times a year to visit family. They have 15 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

He pointed out the driveline that leads from his body to a portable battery pack. “I get asked a lot, ‘what is that?’ I say, ‘it’s a left ventricular device.’ And they just stare at you. So I say, ‘this is my heart, if I don’t have this, I don’t have a heart.’”

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