Electronic heart machine saves life of East Texas woman

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - The shrill sound of electronic beeping noises echo off the walls inside Denise Maxie's home--a haunting noise of the struggle she lives with each day.

"An alarm will sound that you can hear all over the house and I have 15 minutes to get off of electricity to these batteries," Maxie said.

The 39-year-old Lufkin woman has been living with a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) for nearly six years.

"Basically, it's a pump that pumps blood to your body so your heart can kind of rest," Maxie said.

The machine is wrapped up inside a backpack the size of a purse. Every day Maxie puts the purse on to mask the machine—its cords medically put inside her body, wrapped around her heart to help pump the blood needed to survive.

"This is my pump speed," Maxie says as she shows the East Texas News how to work the machine. "When I first got this my cardio output was five percent and normal cardio output is 50 percent, so I'm doing a lot better with it than without it."

Cardio output is the volume of blood being pumped by the heart.

She says her pump speed stays around 10,000 and 9,990, and the batteries on her machine last for about 10 to 12 hours.

Twelve years ago, Maxie says she got the worst news of her life.

"I was in the middle of nursing school, then I went had a baby and during Christmas holidays is when I found out I had heart disease," Maxie said.

She was diagnosed with postpartum cardiomyopathy and spent six months at the Heart Institute of East Texas before being transferred to a Houston hospital. She was then diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, congested heart failure, ventricular tachycardia (rapid heartbeat), and atrial fibrillation (cardiac arrhythmia).

"I could empty the trash and literally have a coughing fit for like the next 10 minutes where I was taking receiving blankets and holding them over my mouth because I didn't want the neighbors to hear me coughing," Maxie said.

Six years later, Maxie says she was sitting on the front porch with her dad when she started to feel chest pains.

"I could tell I was getting sicker. I had to make myself do stuff because I had kids. I still had to take care of them but, there would be a lot of days where I couldn't breathe. I could hardly walk without being exhausted. I couldn't walk really to my bedroom to in here without having to stop and rest," Maxie said.

She spent two weeks at Woodland Heights Hospital where she said they told her she only had indigestion. She was later transferred to St. Luke's Hospital in Houston where it was confirmed she had had a heart attack.

In April 2009, she went into open heart surgery.

"When I actually came to it was June," Maxie said.

She said when she woke up she couldn't believe what had happened. She said it was scary because she couldn't talk and when she looked down she saw that her chest was healed.

"I realized that I have a Trachea and actually I have a breathing machine beside me that's breathing for me," Maxie said.

The experience was traumatizing, she said, and all she could think about was her kids.

Now, days are easier for Maxie who has her LVAD to thank for helping her get through her daily routine. But, she says she hasn't survived everything yet and has been put on a diet and nutrition plan by her doctor to help lose weight.

But she says the experience has made her motivated to lose the weight so hopefully the risk of heart disease will decrease.

If you have a survivors story to share or know of someone who has overcome a life challenge, send an email to mreed@ktre.com.

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