The Gift of Life

Jerry Gehle should be dead.

But not only is he alive, he is enjoying a healthy, active  lifestyle…especially for someone who doesn’t have a pulse.

Gehle (pronounced GAY-lee) is kept alive by a remarkable piece of technology known as an LVAD—a left ventricular assist device. Think of it as a kind of mechanical heart. Placed inside his chest, the LVAD helps Gehle’s heart pump oxygen-rich blood throughout his body.

Unlike an artificial heart, the LVAD doesn’t replace the heart; it just helps it do its job.

And Gehle’s heart needs the help. Gehle and his wife, Deana, arrived at the Jane Phillips Medical Center Emergency Room on January 25th of this year. His heart ejection fraction (a measurement of how well heart is pumping blood) was 41 percent. Two months later, it was at five percent. And that was despite all of the work by Dr. Gary Dykstra of BlueStem Cardiology.

“Our ER staff did a terrific job with the initial diagnosis and getting him in to see us,” Dr. Dykstra said. “We did everything we knew to do, but he did not get any better. In fact, he got worse.”

But Dykstra was determined to find a way to help. Shortly before he began treating Gehle, Dr. Dykstra was visited by a member of the LVAD team at Integris Hospital in Oklahoma City and the only one in the state.

“Basically, they were just traveling the state letting physicians know they existed and to contact them if they ever had a patient who might be an LVAD candidate.”

Normally, LVADs serve as bridges to heart transplants. But since he is an extreme Celiac, which means he must be totally gluten-free, Gehle was not a candidate for a heart transplant. So, Dr. Dykstra reached out to the folks at Integris.

“It was just a God thing,” said Deana Gehle about Dr. Dykstra’s timely visit with the LVAD team. “If not for that, my husband would be dead right now.”

While he can’t do many of the things he used to do, Gehle is alive and relatively active.

“I feel great! I feel like I can do anything. But I can’t.”

A former truck driver, Gehle is now a permanent passenger so if his battery-operated device somehow fails, he won’t be at the wheel. While

he can walk, his physical activity and movements are limited. And there are many other mundane, everyday tasks in which his wife and his 24/7 companion must help with or do for him.

“It changes your whole world,” Deana said. “It changed both his and mine. But we’ve both embraced it.”

Jerry and Deana literally go everywhere together. They are never apart.

“But I don’t mind because I love my wife,” he said. Because of Jerry’s LVAD, Integris and the Gehles visited with the JPMC ER staff and the Dewey Fire Department to make them aware that he cannot be subjected to an MRI and most definitely not CPR, which would be in order for someone without a pulse. Dr. Dykstra provided the technical explanation, but time and space do not allow it.

“He’s my little hummer,” Deana says of her battery-packing partner.

Jerry Gehle is the first in this area to receive an LVAD and both Gehles have become enthusiastic ambassadors.

“We’ve been on quite a journey, but we are willing to share our story with others,” Deana said.

Jerry’s mother passed away one year ago from congestive heart failure.

“It (an LVAD) would’ve made such a difference in her life,” Jerry said. The technology has been around for over 20 years, but word is slowly spreading. And Dr. Dykstra is among those doing the  spreading.

“We are constantly educating ourselves about what is available in the way of high quality heart

care,” he said. “Whether we provide the care or whether it’s available somewhere else, we want to be able to provide our patients with as much information and as many options as we can.

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