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Mark Nelson Testimonial

  • Category: News
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  • Written By: Mark Nelson
Mark Nelson Testimonial

We often say that our lives can change in an instant, and for Mark Nelson, Physician Assistant (PA), at WellSmart Health Orthopaedic Clinic, that is exactly what happened. On Saturday morning, October 24, 2020, around 3:00 a.m., Mark woke up short of breath. He recalls telling his wife Annetta, “I have to go to the hospital”, which was the first time he had ever said those words in his life. Mark, 63, was always healthy and took good care of himself, and in his free time even refereed high school and recreational soccer, where he got plenty of physical exercise. His first thought was that he might have contracted COVID-19.

To his surprise, after coming to OGHS’ Main Campus Emergency Department, and testing negative for COVID-19, he was told by Dr. Siby Ayalloore, cardiologist, that he had cardiomegaly. This diagnosis led to further testing to see what was causing the enlargement of his heart. An ejection fraction, which measures the percentage of how much blood the left ventricle pumps out with each contraction, measured less than 20%. A normal healthy heart measures 55-60%. At this point, Mark knew that he was in trouble.

For the next several weeks, Mark continued to work and referee soccer, even though he didn’t have the stamina that he once had. In December, proclaimed the busiest time of year by Mark, he was dealing with swelling in his abdomen and extremities, and continued working despite the fact that he had to have a pic-line inserted to help control the swelling and to provide IV medication to his heart. Mark struggled, but pushed himself to continue working.

In January, he was informed by Dr. Ayalloore that nothing else could be done and was referred to the heart transplant unit at Ochsner in New Orleans. He was experiencing diffuse body swelling, which is what happens before you pass away in active heart failure. The doctors there said that it was completely unexplainable how he had still been working up to this point. Within 5 hours of being admitted, they started working him up for transplant. He received a CT scan and underwent numerous tests to make sure he could be a candidate for a heart transplant. Within 3 days, they extracted 50 pounds of fluid from his body. He underwent three procedures where a pump was inserted in his heart to assist in transporting blood throughout his body, and as his heart became weaker, each time he had to get a stronger pump.

He continued to decline and was placed in ICU. He started having arrhythmia episodes where his heart would race to 180 beats a minute. When this occurred, he was given medication to stop his heart. Once stopped, his heart would begin pumping normal again, only to happen a few hours later. This occurred three times in one day.

The next plan of action was to insert a ventricular assist device (VAD), also known as a mechanical circulatory support device, which is an implantable mechanical pump that helps transport blood from the lower chambers of the heart (the ventricles) to the rest of your body. The day before he would have been taken off of the transplant list because of this treatment, his cardiologist came in his room and told him that they found a perfect match and that he would be getting a new heart from an out-of-state donor.

On February 10, 2021, he received his heart transplant. He stayed in ICU for 5 days and an additional 13 days in the step down unit. He was discharged after being hospitalized for 44 days, then had to remain in New Orleans for 13 more days for outpatient testing, for a total of 57 days. It was determined that he contracted a virus at some point in his life that deteriorated his heart muscle over time, causing the heart failure.

Upon returning home, Mark was greeted by a crowd of family, friends and loved ones outside of his home. He recalls giving everyone a hug and feeling so alive. Today Mark is recovering at home awaiting the green light to return to work.