Michael Chaisson lives on standby with a backpack and constant ear out for the telephone call that it’s his time to get a heart.
Chaisson’s world is hanging on a life-saving message that could come in 10 minutes or three years, but what is known is he wants to live.
“It’s tough,” he said. “It’s almost impossible to comprehend the fact they could remove my heart and put a better one in there. Just knowing it could be any moment … I’m certainly ready for sooner rather than later.”
Chaisson’s been on the transplant list since May, but his fight with heart disease has been much longer.
“It was always looming over me,” he said of his family’s history with coronary artery heart disease that claimed his mother by age 43 and plagued other relatives.
By age 32, it caught up to Chaisson when he was diagnosed with heart failure and needed quadruple coronary bypass surgery.
His aunt, Elaine Andry Ayo, said her nephew was told he had the heart of an 80-year-old man.
“It’s hereditary in our family,” Ayo said, but the disease is unpredictable as she noted about Chaisson and his brother. “He is one of two boys and it hit him not the other one.”
Ayo also counts herself among the fortunate in her family.
“I’m 67 so I feel pretty good to make it to 67,” said Ayo, who is helping Chaisson deal with his expensive medical care.
Chaisson called ObamaCare a blessing, which has allowed him to have insurance, despite his pre-existing condition, and to have the procedures that have kept him alive.Ayo agreed.
She said just one medical procedure cost around $80,000 and Chaisson’s share was around $7,000 at Ochsner. Fundraisers and even selling his mother’s collection of antique dolls have helped cover some of the cost. A Nov. 7 fundraiser will feature a jambalaya dinner with prize raffles at St. Anthony Catholic Church, 234 Angus Drive, Luling.
An account, under the name “Donation account of Michael Chaisson,” has been established at Capital One. Donations can be made at any of the locations.
Chaisson’s mother was 36 when she got her first heart surgery and only lived another eight year, but medical advancements have given her son more time and improved quality of life.
In July, Chaisson underwent surgery to implant a heart pump or “left ventricular assist device” that keeps him alive until he can get a heart transplant. The need for the device raised his status toward getting the organ and improved his life.
“I’m so incredibly grateful for even having this kind of technology that can make me feel so much better and keep me here until they can find a heart for me,” he said. “It had gotten so serious to reach this point. The doctor told me, ‘You have to do this now.’ It hits you in the face like a brick.”
Just two weeks after getting the pump, he realized it was a life-changing operation.
“I could walk further without shortness of breath,” he said. “With congestive heart failure, being short of breath is a common symptom that leads to all of this. I have become much more optimistic since having this done and I’m officially out of recovery. I went back to work about three weeks ago. Maybe things are not going to be so bad now because before it was really a struggle with the disease itself. Just going shopping for groceries was exhausting, but now it’s nothing.It’s kind of a surprise.”
Chaisson, an IT contractor with AMPM, a temporary hiring service, is even working at the Monsanto plant.
“When I was first diagnosed with all this heart stuff years ago, for awhile it was ‘I can’t believe this is happening to me,’ but at some point you realize there’s nothing I can do to stop it – I’m already sick. It’s about what I can do to get better. I follow my medication regimen religiously and just do what I can to help to keep myself around. You start to realize 40 is not that old. I’m not ready to check out yet.”