Pump keeps Vancouver man's heart working as he awaits transplant

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter



In a matter of weeks, Wesley Dameron's life took a dramatic turn.

The 29-year-old Vancouver man went from being healthy and active to learning that one of his body's most important organs was failing. Now, five years later, his heart is sustained by a mechanical pump as he awaits a transplant. And while he's constantly battling fatigue, he hasn't slowed down.

Dameron and his wife, Adriana, are raising two young boys, 5-year-old Asher and 2-year-old Noah. They're running a business -- G6 Airpark, an indoor trampoline park in Vancouver and Portland -- that's focused on family recreation and fitness. And he's speaking out about his heart condition as the featured speaker at the American Heart Association's annual Heart Ball later this month.

February is American Heart Month

Here are some upcoming events, hosted by the American Heart Association:

• National Wear Red Day — Friday. The American Heart Association is urging people to wear red to create awareness about women and heart disease.

• National Wear Red Day Healthy Hearts Event — noon to 2 p.m. Friday at Macy’s in downtown Portland, 621 S.E. Fifth Ave. The event will include heart-healthy food samples and recipes, fitness demonstrations, blood pressure screening, hands-only CPR instruction and more. Guests should reserve a spot at the free event here.

• American Heart Association’s 18th Annual Heart Ball — 6 p.m. Feb. 15 at The Nines Luxury Hotel, 525 S.W. Morrison St., Portland. The annual fundraiser’s guest speaker will be Wesley Dameron, a Vancouver resident and business owner who has heart failure.

"It would be easy to lay in bed and be depressed," said Dameron, now 34. "It's easy to be despondent and feel sorry for yourself, but that doesn't help anyone."

Dameron first started feeling "funky" in February 2009. For a couple of weeks, he had been experiencing shortness of breath and stomach pain. He was constantly tired and felt run down.

He thought maybe he had a cold or some sort of gastrointestinal problem. He had a 3-month-old baby at home and wasn't sleeping much. He and his wife were also running two adult family homes. Those things, he thought, could be at least partly to blame for his exhaustion.

But a chest X-ray revealed Dameron's heart was enlarged. His kidneys were failing, and he was retaining water in his stomach.

The left side of Dameron's heart was severely damaged; the right side was trying to compensate. His heart was only functioning at about 12 to 15 percent.

No. 1 killer

• Heart disease is the leading cause of death of Americans, killing nearly 380,000 people each year, according to the American Heart Association.

• Heart disease affects the blood vessels and cardiovascular systems and can lead to numerous other problems. Many of the problems are linked to a condition that develops when plaque builds up in the walls of the arteries, making it harder for blood to flow.

• But heart disease can take many other forms, as well, including heart failure, abnormal rhythm of the heart and heart valve problems.

• For more information, visit the American Heart Association website.

At age 29, he was diagnosed with heart failure.

"I will never forget that day," Adriana Dameron said.

Doctors haven't been able to explain why Dameron, who was otherwise healthy and active, has heart failure. He hadn't been sick. He didn't have a virus attacking his body.

"They still have no rhyme or reason for it," he said.

Within a couple days of the diagnosis, Dameron had a defibrillator and pacemaker device implanted in his chest and was prescribed medication. His kidneys resumed their normal function, since the heart was functioning well again, and he stopped retaining fluid.

The couple resumed their lives, knowing he would eventually need a heart transplant. They hoped he wouldn't need a transplant for another 10 or 15 years.

But in May, the Damerons learned Wesley's heart wouldn't make it nearly that long. He was once again struggling to breathe. He didn't have the energy or strength to move.

"My heart was sputtering out," Wesley said.

Dameron was admitted to Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, where doctors administered numerous heart medications. They tried IV medicines. They tried medicines that had to be pumped directly into the heart. Nothing helped.

"His heart was failing at a really rapid rate," Adriana said.

Doctors concluded the only option was a left ventricular assist device, an implantable pump that helps pump blood from the lower chambers of Dameron's heart to the rest of his body.

The pump sends a continuous flow of blood from his heart to his aorta. The pump is powered by a battery pack that Dameron carries in a shoulder bag that looks like a camera bag. The pump is connected to the battery through a cord that runs through, and out of, his stomach.

"This is my little buddy," Dameron said as he patted the bag. "It goes with me everywhere."

At night, Wesley plugs the cord — and himself — into the wall so his sleep isn't interrupted if the pump's battery runs low.

The pump is a temporary measure until Dameron can get a heart transplant. He should be added to the transplant list at OHSU this month. The wait for a transplant is usually about nine to 18 months, he said.

Wesley has found solace in his situation through his faith.

"It's a bummer. It's not something you're excited about," Dameron said. "But God knows what he's doing."

"My faith can sustain me, and I feel very fortunate my parents instilled that in me," he added.

In the meantime, Dameron continues to live his life to the fullest he can.

"Life goes on," he said. "And if it doesn't, it's still going to be OK."