By Jean Shanley
WEST MEAD TOWNSHIP —
Some say there are people who “wear their hearts on their sleeves,” meaning anyone can tell how happy they are or how much in love they are.
Jeff Carpenter for the past couple of months had worn his heart around his waist — a portable heart pump that kept his blood circulating, performing a function that his heart could no longer perform.
Early Monday morning, Carpenter received a new heart, which was placed in his body where his old “achy breaky heart” — his sister-in-law, Tammy Palmer’s, words — had been removed.
By noon Monday, Carpenter’s new heart was functioning well and he appears to be on the road to recovery. A transplant patient at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital in Pittsburgh, Carpenter received the heart of a man who died in his 40s. The man’s family donated his heart and several other organs, resulting in at least four people getting a new lease on life.
The road to a heart transplant was not an easy one for Carpenter and his wife, Debbie. On Aug. 12, his heart stopped because of low potassium in his blood stream and he went into cardiac arrest. He had been on medication for bloating from water retention and he lost 30 pounds in three days — which resulted in the low potassium in his blood stream. It put him into cardiac arrest at home, where his wife found him on the sofa.
After being taken to Meadville Medical Center, Carpenter was life flighted to Presbyterian Hospital where he received care while waiting for a heart transplant. When he was discharged from the hospital, Carpenter was hooked up to the portable heart.
“If I turn it off, I die,” Carpenter said about a week before he got the heart transplant.
Carpenter’s family has a history of heart problems. His was caused by a lack of certain chemicals in his body.
He suffered his first heart attack on Aug. 1, 2007, and from then until this past October, he had four major heart attacks, three stents put in, four heart cauterizations, and a defibrillator was inserted in 2010. The defibrillator fired twice — once shocking him 20 times and the second time, shocking him 17 times. A defibrillator/pacemaker was inserted on Sept. 9, 2011.
Carpenter also had a liver treatment with Dr. Paul Piersel — necessary because of liver damage from taking the drug Crestor from January to July 2012.
‘Blessing in disguise’
Carpenter’s cardiac arrest in August moved him to the top of the heart transplant list. He previously had been considered for a transplant, but it was determined an available heart was not a good fit, Carpenter said.
How long he will remain in the hospital is not known, but he says he was told the shortest amount of time any heart transplant patient remained hospitalized is 10 days. Carpenter hopes to break that record and be discharged in nine days, according to Palmer.
Palmer said Monday that Carpenter was doing amazingly well and the surgery went very well. She said the family is very grateful for all the prayers and support they have had and continue to have.
An active member of First Christian Church, Carpenter, who has served as an elder, on the worship team and as a trustee, continued attending that church even with the portable heart, which could be heard beating loud and clear during the service. A man of strong faith, he is said to have a large heart for helping others and has always given freely of his time and finances.
Even with his portable heart, he was able to play miniature golf and mow the lawn on a riding mower; but his activities were limited. Carpenter said he tried walking each day and being as active as possible.
Owner of Carpenter’s Auto, which was located in Townville for 11 years and has been in Meadville for 10 years, Carpenter said the biggest thing he misses is his ability to go to work.
“I love my job and loved going to work every day,” he said.
Carpenter is praising God for the health he has been given and the encouragement he has received — and being able to encourage others facing a difficult situation.
The portable pump was a “blessing in disguise,” Carpenter said, pleased that through his difficult times he was able to help educate people about heart disease — and the importance of organ donation.
“I feel blessed to still be alive,” he added.
‘I can, I can’
The cardiac arrest in August was almost the end, he said. Carpenter’s wife, Debbie, remembered that in Pittsburgh his blood pressure dropped and the family was told there was nothing else that could be done medically.
Family and friends came to “pray, sing songs and read Scriptures” in the intensive care unit and his blood pressure started to go back up, he said.
Debbie said his children were there and kept telling him to “hang on” and “you can do it.”
They were thrilled when he wrote on a tablet, “I can, I can,” — it was the first response he had given since his cardiac arrest several days earlier.
“I can’t tell you how exciting it was for the family when he wrote, ‘I can,’” Debbie said. “It was very emotional and like an answer from God.”
Carpenter doesn’t remember any of that. Debbie said because of the drugs he received, it has been blocked out.
While Carpenter’s health is improving, there are still other issues that need to be addressed.
Because of all the expenses, the Carpenters have their home for sale because they can’t keep up with its expenses and upkeep. They’re not sure where they will live but are trusting God will show them when the time comes.
He and Debbie have been married for 30 years and have three children, who are described as the “light of his life.”
Even before the heart transplant, Carpenter was placing his faith in God and there has been nothing to indicate his mind has changed.
“I trust God,” Carpenter said. “He has taken care of me so far. He will take care of me (still).”
Fundraisers set to help with expenses
Tammy Palmer, sister-in-law of Jeff Carpenter, said friends and family are working to raise funds for the various related expenses that will not be covered by insurance as Carpenter recovers from heart transplant surgery.
Expenses can be as much as $75,000, she said, including co-pays, deductibles, doctor visits and the costly immune suppressant medication he will need to take the rest of is life.
To assist with these expenses, a fundraising campaign in his honor has been established with HelpHOPELive, a nonprofit organization that has been assisting the transplant community for 30 years. All donations are tax deductible, are held by HelpHOPELive in the Mid-Atlantic Transplant Fund and are administered for transplanted-related expenses only.
Checks should be made payable to HelpHOPELive with a memo line “in honor of Jeff Carpenter” and sent to HelpHOPELive, Two Radnor Corporate Center, 100 Matsonford Road, Suite 10, Radnor, Pa. 19087.
Secured credit card contributions may be made by calling (800) 642-8399 or by visiting helphopelive.org and entering Jeff Carpenter on the “Find a Patient” box on the homepage.
Also, a benefit ham dinner for Carpenter is Nov. 23 from 4 to 6 p.m. at Calvary Baptist Church, 543 Randolph St., Meadville.
Music also will be featured that evening. Donations will be accepted for the Carpenter family.