Health Team

Transplant patient: Don't let the warning signs go by

Posted February 11, 2016 5:23 p.m. EST
Updated February 12, 2016 10:12 a.m. EST

While many will be expecting a heart-shaped box of chocolate this Valentine’s Day, there is a long list of people waiting for the gift of a real heart.

Kevin Slinkman, 54, never liked sitting still and always pursued physical fitness.

“I ran, I swam, bicycled. I’ve been something all my life. I played football and lacrosse in high school,” he said.

Three years ago, Slinkman felt himself slowing down. Just riding his bike up a hill grew more difficult.

“I attributed it to age, like I’m just getting older. I’m in my 50s now,” Slinkman said.

Slinkman finally decided to get the problem checked out. He quickly ended up at Duke University Hospital, where doctors learned he had a congenital heart defect. Instead of three leaflets in his aortic valve, he only had two and they were heavily calcified and failing.

“They estimate about 11 percent blood flow through it than should have been flowing through it,” Slinkman said.

Replacing Slinkman’s heart valve would not be enough. He needed a heart transplant, but until one became available he needed a heart pump.

“It was very life changing to have that diagnosis given to us,” said Slinkman’s wife, Marilyn Slinkman.

The pump is called a left ventricle assist device, or LVAD.

“It basically reroutes around the heart into the aorta,” said Kevin Slinkman. “Basically, that did the pumping for my heart.”

Many patients wait for a donor’s heart for more than a year, but Slinkman and his wife got the call from Duke within six months.

“He’s a walking miracle. He really is,” said Marilyn Slinkman.

Recovery was tough but now Kevin Slinkman is doing well and hopes to get back on his bike soon. He wants others to learn from his story.

“Your body, you know your body better than anybody else. Don’t let these warning signs go by like I did,” he said.

The Slinkmans said, one day, they would love to meet the family of the heart donor. That person saved the lives of at least three other people, with the gifts of two kidneys and a liver.