Life Device - WSVN-TV - 7NEWS Miami Ft. Lauderdale News, Weather, Deco

Life Device

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WSVN -- Ronnie Walker is not only a huge Miami Hurricanes fan, he used to play for the team!

Ronnie Walker: "I played defensive tackle and defensive end."

He hit the field back in the 70s.

Ronnie Walker: "We weren't the biggest team around, but we had some of the biggest hearts."

But, later it was Ronnie's heart that started to give out. It got so bad just walking up a flight of stairs left him out of breath.

Ronnie Walker: "I got to the top of them and I couldn't go any further, I was totally exhausted."

Doctors say heart failure occurs when the heart isn't pumping enough blood to the rest of the body.

Ronnie Walker: "That's when they begin to fill up with fluid, they develop swelling of the legs, shortness of breath, they become unable to do much activity at all."

Most patients need a heart transplant, but it can take years to find a donor, and Ronnie couldn't wait, so he became the first patient at Jackson Memorial Hospital to receive the world's smallest artificial heart pump.

Ronnie Walker: "It is small, you can see how small it is on my hand."

Surgeons say this device is easier on patients because it's implanted directly into the chest. The pump is connected to a battery-operated controller on the outside of the body, which is programmed to monitor blood flow. Plus, it can stay inside the patient for up to five years.

Dr. Si Pham, Dir. of Heart & Lung Transplant Program, Jackson Memorial Hospital: "So they will feel much better. They are able to do more, and they can get stronger waiting for a heart transplant."

Since his operation, Ronnie has been able to cut down on his medications.

Ronnie Walker: "Every day I notice a progression, a little stronger, and my mind is becoming not so cloudy."

He makes sure the batteries for his pump are always charged up and ready to go.

Ronnie Walker: "I got four bars saying this battery's full. Four saying this one's full, so we're good to go with that."

He carries the device at all times, but says it's a small price to pay for a chance to live another day. He credits his friends and family for keeping him going.

Ronnie Walker: "People would leave messages, uplifting, bringing my spirits up, it gives me chills to think about it now."

The new heart pump is expected to be approved by the FDA later this year. Ronnie is still waiting for a donor.

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