Patient Leads ‘Virtual Heart Walk’

When the American Heart Association Richmond Heart Walk took place in September 2016, Craig Trowbridge was in the VCU Health Pauley Heart Center, awaiting a donor heart. But he was determined to take part in the walk.

HEART PATIENT CRAIG TROWBRIDGE AND THE HELPFUL STAFF AT VCU.

HEART PATIENT CRAIG TROWBRIDGE AND THE HELPFUL STAFF AT VCU.

“I’ve always been an active person—running, biking, hockey, golf—and when I heard about the Heart Walk, I told [Clinical Nurse Specialist] Kim Nelson that I was going to participate by walking the 3.1 miles that day on the 10th floor, having my own virtual Heart Walk. Kim took that idea and set up the Heart Walk for the floor,” recalled Trowbridge, 58.

He had received a total artificial heart in March 2016; by the time of the walk, he was still tethered to the large console that drove the heart, known as “Big Blue.” However, at that time, he was actively engaged in cardiac rehab and walking two miles a day.

“I was confident that I would complete the walk, but I was more worried about finding people to pull the 400-pound Big Blue machine for 36 laps. But as was true of the staff at VCU, they enthusiastically supported my walk both by pulling Big Blue and cheering me on,” he said. Also lending support was his wife, Maureen, three daughters (with one participating by Facetime from Colorado), and friends.

“I can’t give enough gratitude and praise to the physicians, nurses, cardiac rehab staff, and others for the care and support that I and my family received at VCU.”

Several patients from the Cardiothoracic Surgery Progressive Care Unit and some former patients now home with left ventricular assist devices (LVADs) also took part in the walk. A total artificial heart patient with a theatre background sang the national anthem for the opening ceremonies.

When Trowbridge completed the laps, “I was very elated, as it was the longest walk that I had completed while living with Big Blue,” he said. Through his walk, he raised about $2,000 for the AHA.

Eight months after Daniel Tang, M.D., performed his total artificial heart surgery, Trowbridge underwent a successful transplant, led by Mo Quader, M.D. “Both are excellent surgeons, personable and very compassionate about their patients,” said Trowbridge, who was discharged from VCU on December 7, 2016.

Although he lived at the hospital for many months, he recalls the time fondly. “I can’t give enough gratitude and praise to the physicians, nurses, cardiac rehab staff, and others for the care and support that my family and I received at VCU. Many of them became second family to us as we talked about vacations, kids, weddings, engagements, and new births.”

He has moved back home to Ithaca, New York, and returned to work at Cornell University, where he directs an applied research unit.
He has many special memories of the Heart Walk: “The opening ceremony and presentations, walking the 10th floor and having other patients in the doorway to their room cheering us on, seeing LVAD and other patients participating in the walk. Having family and friends participate with me was special, and the overall atmosphere was just warm and supportive.”

“For several months after the walk, I would see people on the 10th floor that would say `I know you, you did the Heart Walk.’”
Craig Trowbridge’s tradition will continue, as the patients on the 10th floor CVT Progressive Care Unit will take part in the 2nd annual virtual AHA Richmond Heart Walk on October 7.

Craig Trowbridge’s tradition will continue, as the patients on the 10th floor CVT Progressive Care Unit will take part in the 2nd annual virtual AHA Richmond Heart Walk on October 7.