Garland Grandmother Is Oldest Woman in US With Heart Pump

Leap of faith pays off with more years

By Tammy Mutasa
|  Wednesday, Dec 28, 2011  |  Updated 10:03 PM CDT
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A heart pump restores an 85-year-old's life.

Tammy Mutasa, Garland Reporter

A heart pump restores an 85-year-old's life.

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A Garland woman is celebrating life after she became the oldest woman in the United States to get a heart pump that helps her heart circulate blood.

Shirley Wilber, 85, had the Thoratec HeartMate II Left Ventricle Assist System implanted on Dec. 21 at Medical City Dallas Hospital.

She one of only four female patients older than 80 implanted with the HeartMate II worldwide.

Wilber credits her zest for life for getting her to 85.

“You don't even realize what your age is. You just go day to day, and it just happens," Wilber said.

Doctors said it is rare for someone Wilber’s age to get the surgery.

Wilber was diagnosed with congestive heart failure nearly a decade ago. During the past year, her heart function fell to 20 percent of capacity, but she was not eligible for a heart transplant because of her age.

"Now Shirley's is unusualness is in the sense that out of those hundreds of patients, very few are over the age of 80,” said cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Todd Dewey. “And I think she's unique in the sense that she's still healthy in that sense, other than poor heart function."

It's been a tough journey for Wilber's family.

"The emotions were up and down. We knew our mother was getting worse, health-wise, every minute,” said Marcia Bricker. “And she would have some good days and some days not so good."

After Wilber met someone who had previously received the surgery, she decided to go for it.

"It was a choice I had to make. I didn't have any choice otherwise; my heart was giving out,” said Wilber.

The surgery took four and half hours. The device about the size of a cellphone is implanted next to the heart. The pump is then connected by a drive line to a controller and batteries on the outside of the body.

“We implant the device into the chest and it takes over the left side of her heart,” said Dewey. “The left side of her heart is the part of the body that pumps blood throughout the body.”

For the family, the surgery was a leap of faith that paid off with another day.

"We're happy that everything been successful and we're still praying that she will continue to be successful for her and our family," Bricker said.

Dewey said the device mechanically can last up to a decade.

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