View Full Version : back to racing after a Heart transplant

February 14th, 2007, 05:55 PM
Need some inspiration? Read about Ralph Davis. He swam in a meet last weekend for the first time since his heart transplant. What a treat to have him back on deck with us again. The following story ran in the Ann Arbor News about 10 days ago.

Back in the swim Heart patient gets 2nd birthday

Ralph Davis plans to celebrate two milestone birthdays this month.
Davis turns 60 Feb. 18, but it's his other birthday, Feb. 11, that's the most relevant. That date marks the one-year anniversary of his new heart, given to him during a transplant at the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor.

To mark the date, Davis will swim in the 19th annual Ford Athletic Swimming and Triathlon (FAST) Masters Swim Meet at Brighton High School, his first competitive meet since a dramatic two-year battle with heart problems.
To family and friends, Davis is a walking, swimming miracle. The Brighton Township resident survived heart failure, which ultimately led to kidney, liver and lung failure, too.

"He was near-death two or three times. I don't know how he survived,'' says Dennis McManus, a long-time friend and swimming partner.

Dr. Jonathan Haft, assistant professor of surgery in U-M's cardiac surgery division, says the staff was "pessimistic'' about Davis' survival at times.

"The vast majority of patients that have failure of multiple organs, the percentage of those who survive, it is low,'' Haft says. "What surprised us is that he survived and thrived.''

You might recognize Davis. He is featured in a television commercial about the "Michigan Difference'' promoting U-M. It ran regularly during the Rose Bowl and continues to be aired.

He also is on a billboard, seen from the eastbound lanes of I-96 near Wixom. He passes it driving to his consulting business, Kinzler Group Inc. in Livonia. "I was so surprised. I look up and I see myself on the billboard,'' Davis says.
The real surprise is that he's alive to see it.

Davis' downfall

Roughly 15 years ago, Davis was diagnosed with a slight atrial fibrillation, a disorder found in about 2.2 million Americans where the heart's two smaller upper chambers quiver instead of beating effectively. The condition can ultimately lead to dangerous blood clots and stroke, according to the Web site, www.americanheart.org. Doctors told him he would eventually need a pacemaker, a device he received in 2004.

In February 2005, medication for a simple sinus infection adversely reacted with the anticoagulant he was taking for his heart. Excessive internal bleeding led to a blood clot in his lung. His condition spiraled downward, and he was transferred to U-M.

The right ventricle of his heart had failed. Both lungs eventually quit working. His kidney and liver followed suit.

Davis was put on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine on June 23, 2005. During ECMO, the blood is oxygenated outside the body by an artificial lung and circulates with the help of an external pump, allowing the heart and lungs to rest.
"I tell him that's the day he died. He would have if he was anywhere else (but U-M hospital),'' his wife, Bonnie Davis, recalls.

By July, Ralph Davis was given a 65 percent chance to survive the surgery he needed to receive two implantable ventricular assist devices (IVAD), says his wife. The IVADs help the right ventricle of the heart pump blood to the lungs and the left ventricle pump blood to the body. A staph infection pushed him to "the brink of death,'' his wife says.

Bonnie Davis says doctors took her husband off heavy sedation in August to see if he could rally. Doctors asked Ralph Davis if he could move his head.
"He picked his head up off the pillow. (The doctor and I) both looked at each other startled,'' Bonnie Davis remembers. "He picked up his hand. He was trying to give the OK sign. They (the doctors) kept going full speed ahead. He rallied. They didn't think he would walk before he got a new heart. He did. He's a very motivated person.''

Stuck in bed virtually motionless for six months, Ralph Davis' muscles atrophied. Bonnie Davis challenged him to walk before their grandson's first birthday in September. Ralph Davis labored through physical therapy to win the bet.

He went home Nov. 30, 2005, with a portable IVAD machine to wait for a transplant. Someone had to be with him 24 hours to ensure his safety.
By January, 2006, he was back at U-M, partly because a faulty alarm on his machine kept going off. It turned out to be a blessing. The family received a call Feb. 11 that a heart was available. McManus said Ralph Davis probably wouldn't have been high enough on the transplant list if he had been at home.

Bonnie Davis says she went to counseling with guilty feelings about celebrating a new heart, knowing another family somewhere was grieving its loss.

Haft says the implant surgery went well, without complication. The Davises celebrated their 40th year of marriage and St. Valentine's Day last year with a new heart.

"The morning I saw him, I swear, he looked like a newborn baby, all pinked up,'' Bonnie Davis says. "He looked so different. The color of the skin is so different.''

Home for good

Ralph Davis came home 16 days after the transplant. His new heart reacted well to the mountain of medications used to stabilize his immune system. He credits his family, his care at U-M and his swimming for his recovery.
Bonnie Davis says her husband's fighting spirit shone during the ordeal. "He never once felt sorry for himself. That amazed me.''

He developed cataracts, which were removed last July, but other than that, Ralph Davis says he feels fine.

After months of walking, he began swimming again last September. Ralph Davis returned to his role as the long-time treasurer of Michigan Masters Swimming, an organization that encourages adults to continue swimming after high school by staging events around the state. He works out at the Brighton High School pool at least twice a week.

"I'm not swimming as far as I used to, but I'm doing about 90 laps,'' he says. "I hope it increases to two miles a workout. I'm very pleased with my progress.''

Ironically, Davis helped save McManus' life nine years ago when he pulled his friend from the bottom of the pool after a heart attack.

"(Swimming) was pretty important for both of us,'' said McManus, the president of Michigan Masters Swimming. "If you don't have the other parts of your body in good condition, you can't get through some of this stuff.''

Ralph Davis appreciates everyday life now more than ever. A two-foot-long scar on his chest and four crater-like scars in his stomach are constant reminders of the fight of his life. "I was given a second chance,'' he says.

And a second birthday to celebrate.

February 14th, 2007, 06:06 PM
Amazing story! Thanks for posting! What a role model!

February 15th, 2007, 12:10 PM
That is awesome!

February 16th, 2007, 09:13 AM
WOW! Awesome story. Thanks for sharing that with us. I love stories like that. They prove the old adage, "Where there is a will, there's a way!"

February 16th, 2007, 09:27 AM
Absolutely amazing. The Lord works in all kinds of ways! Talk about an inspirational story...........WOW!

February 16th, 2007, 06:20 PM
Welcome back, Ralph!