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Surviving cancer can mean a damaged heart

3:46 PM, May 14, 2013   |    comments
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Healthy Heart

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WZZM) - More children are surviving pediatric cancer than ever before, but for some there is a price to pay - a damaged heart.  Some types of chemotherapy are so toxic that they damage the heart muscle.

Brett McPheron of North Muskegon is on the heart transplant list because of the treatment he received as part of his treatment for leukemia at the age of two.

Dr. Daniel West, a cardiologist with West Shore Cardiology in Muskegon, has seen the toll chemotherapy can have on the heart.  "Once it's actually damaged, once it turns to scar tissue, we don't have a way currently available to us to make that heart stronger again."

Which is why Brett's new best friend is his LVAD pump, which is attached to his heart, helping it beat until he can get a new one.  "What it is, is sort of an extra little pump that helps the heart. It doesn't take over 100% of the function of the heart but it does take over most of the function of the heart. Sometimes we use this in patients such as Brett who are awaiting transplants," describes Dr. West.

20% of Brett's heart is scarred by the chemotherapy. He was just 14 years old when he had his first heart failure. He had two more before he was told by his doctors at the age of 24 that he would need a heart transplant. "I was mad. I thought all my health issues were put behind me.  To find out that it affected my heart and now I have to deal with all this, I was mad and angry.

But now he's looking forward to his new heart, because he knows with it, he can have a future. "I'm ready for it. Being able to know that possibly in the future I can have a wife and possibly kids and live to see them grow up and watch them pursue their future, knowing that I can live as a normal person it just excites me."

After Brett gets his new heart, he wants to go back to school. He's interested in being a marine biologist. He's currently waiting for a donor heart which could take three to eight months or maybe longer.


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