Positivity and a Proposal – Life After Heart Surgery

“I was an engineer by trade, a farmer by tradition and a firefighter by choice,” said Chris Schultz of Onsted. He is also a model of positivity. When faced with advanced heart failure at age 70, Chris chose to have a complex, life-prolonging surgery. He then proposed to his high school sweetheart.

In November 2020, Chris went to Henry Ford Jackson Hospital with right-sided chest pain. He was sent immediately to the Cardiac Catheterization Lab, where tests determined the bottom left chamber (left ventricle) of Chris’s heart was not pumping enough blood to the aorta (the heart’s largest artery). A short-term treatment called an intra-aortic balloon pump was inserted into Chris’s aorta to increase blood flow to the rest of his body.

“One of the doctors explained to me that I required more extensive treatment. And as part of Henry Ford Health, I had access to the larger toolbox that would be needed,” Chris said. “I really appreciated the doctor being straightforward with me, and I felt confident being transferred to Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.”

Chris' Story
When faced with advanced heart failure at age 70, Chris chose to have a complex, life-prolonging surgery that included implanting an LVAD.

The heart surgery and advanced heart failure team at Henry Ford Hospital met with Chris and his family to explain a procedure to insert an LVAD (left ventricular assist device) into Chris’s chest to help his heart pump more efficiently. While LVAD had the potential to prolong Chris’s life and improve his quality of life, it also brought certain risks. A Henry Ford Hospital psychiatrist spoke with Chris to ensure he was fully aware of the pros and cons.

“With both my engineering and first responder experience, I thought the LVAD technology was the coolest thing ever,” Chris said. “I knew I wanted to go on living, so I immediately said yes to the surgery.”

Chris’s surgery went extremely well, and he was in recovery sooner than expected. He began Cardiac Rehabilitation while still in the hospital, following up with occupational therapy and physical therapy after his hospital discharge. Once he was strong enough, Chris continued with the Cardiac Rehabilitation Program at Henry Ford Jackson Hospital.

“I wholly recommend Cardiac Rehabilitation for any heart surgery patient,” Chris said. “For the best recovery, you have to do the work and build back your strength.”

Chris was happy to learn his follow-up care could also be done close to home, at Henry Ford Jackson Hospital. He has been cleared to return to his regular physical activity, including planting and cultivating a large vegetable garden. “I was told there is nothing I can’t do now, just to take a break when I get tired,” Chris said. “I haven’t experienced any pain from the device, and I have more energy now.”

Looking to the future with hope and positivity, Chris reconnected with Jane, the woman he had taken to her high school junior prom more than 50 years ago and had never forgotten. Chris and Jane were married in June 2022 and honeymooned on Mackinac Island.

Feeling grateful for life and wanting to give back to their community, Chris and Jane joined the Stephen Ministry, a non-denominational organization providing support for those who are suffering due to serious illness, loss of a loved one or other life crises. Chris would also like to encourage others facing heart surgery.

“If I were to meet someone who was trying to decide about getting an LVAD, I would tell him or her to absolutely go for it,” Chris said. “The key is having a positive attitude. It makes all the difference to your recovery.” He also advises against relying on the Internet instead of listening to experienced doctors.

Chris wishes to thank his brother and sister-in-law for their steadfast support—as well as the doctors and nurses at Henry Ford Jackson Hospital “for their phenomenal kindness and care.”

As a retired engineer, I am awed by the technology that keeps my heart pumping. I AM HENRY.

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