June 23, 2021
Desalegn Seyum describes his most recent stay at the Medical Center of Aurora as a rebirth of sorts.
“A resurrection in 42 days… I was a man who could not stand at his bedside, shaking tired and almost dead, and then I was walking through the halls with my walker.” Seyum, 74, said just days after receiving an implanted device for cardiac contractility modulations, a new procedure at the hospital that doctors describe as a last-resort for heart failure patients.
Medical Center of Aurora is the first hospital in the state to offer CCM, and it came at just the right time for Seyum, who was diagnosed with heart failure in 2015. Heart failure is a progressive and chronic condition that’s mostly treated through medication. Patients often feel fatigued and experience shortness of breath, as the heart isn’t able to pump enough blood for the body’s needs. More than 6 million people have heart failure in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control. In 2018, it was a factor in more than 13% of deaths.
After arriving at the hospital on April 30 for some increasing swelling in his legs, Seyum said he was, at one point, presented with the possibility of hospice care. Over the course of a few weeks his weight would fluctuate between 117lbs and 171lbs solely because of how much fluid he was retaining due to a weak heart.
In May, after having another heart procedure, doctors offered Seyum the CCM surgery, which he said he believes changed his life.
“This is the first time I have been able to see my knee caps in so long,” he said. “It’s just amazing.”
Doctors implant an Optimizer device that then delivers timed electrical pulses to the heart to help it better contract. The Optimizer, about the size of a pacemaker, is inserted in the heart’s right ventricle through veins. Over time it acts similarly to exercise, but the difference it can make is almost immediate.
Dr. Chris Porterfield, a cardiologist at the Aurora hospital, said most patients can return home within a day or two of receiving the Optimizer. Seyum was required to stay a bit longer to help rebuild his strength.
It’s no trouble for him, Seyum said. All that matters is that he’ll be able to leave the hospital in better shape than he got there.
“I’m not rushing it,” he said of his recovery.
Patients who are eligible for the procedure are like Seyum. They are typically very weak, on heart failure medication and continue to see symptoms.
Porterfield said having the procedure available at the Medical Center of Aurora is a big deal for locals, as heart failure patients likely wouldn’t have the strength to travel to other hospitals in the U.S. that offer it.
More patients are already awaiting treatment, he said.
For Seyum, an Ethiopian immigrant who arrived in the U.S. in 1992 on a Fullbright scholarship and then spent his career teaching environmental science at colleges in Oklahoma and Colorado, CCM therapy brings a sense of relief that he can continue taking care of his health and volunteering with his church when able to.
“I’m an old man. I stopped teaching in 2015 when I was told I have heart failure,” he said. “So my plan is simply to make sure that I attend my medical appointments and do what is advised of me today… I will focus on my health in these final years.”
Seyum, a scientist by training and a man of God, describes the procedure as “nothing short of miraculous.” But he’d like an opportunity to sing the praises of medical staff for making his rebirth possible, too.
“They are committed, selfless professionals that want to help their patients and it shows,” he said.