It’s a typical hectic summer day for a family with three young children.
An aunt goes to pick up Clare, 6, from day camp. Erin, 9, sprawls on the couch with a “Despicable Me” game, and Henry, 4, changes for a swim lesson.
For Tim Day, the children’s father and an officer with the Town of Tonawanda Police Department, who is watching all this from a seat at the dining room table, the hubbub of family life is close to paradise.
Day, 45, is at home in Kenmore with an implanted heart pump after spending 128 days in Strong Memorial Hospital, Rochester, awaiting a transplant to replace his heart, which was ravaged by an autoimmune disease.
He never got that transplant, but he has stabilized enough, at least for now, to wait for a new heart at home.
Doctors are hoping he will stay high on the transplant list because his first implanted pump failed due to blood clots. That failure and a severe infection in early May led to some harrowing moments.
Day looks and feels better than he did when he was profiled in The Buffalo News on April 27, as Erin made her First Communion in the hospital’s chapel. But shortly after that, he developed a severe infection.
“They called me and said you’d better get out here,” said his wife, Sherry Brinser-Day, who has been a pillar of strength during the ordeal. “The doctors said he could die from this.”
He was able to overcome the infection, Day said, but there were aftereffects.
“I never fully recovered from it and couldn’t get back to where I was,” he said. “My energy level was low.”
In early June, doctors, hopeful that a heart would be donated in the next 12 days, implanted a balloon pump that improved Day’s blood flow but required him to lie almost immobile.
“They were hoping for a heart in those 12 days, but it didn’t come, and they realized they had to do something,” Day said.
On June 21, Day’s surgeon implanted a 10-ounce, 3-inch-long left ventricle assist device next to his heart to power oxygen-rich blood throughout his body. The pump is controlled by a computer he wears on his waist. The computer’s wires enter the skin on his abdomen. At night, it is powered by electricity from an outlet; during the day, he wears a mesh vest that holds an 8-pound battery pack.
The pump “is a truly life-saving machine in the right patient population, and certainly Timothy is a perfect example of that,” said Dr. Eugene Storozynsky, a heart failure/transplant cardiologist on the team treating Day.
The pump, Storozynsky said, “does not replace the heart completely but assists the very weak heart to provide normal and appropriate blood flow.”
The couple’s 11th wedding anniversary fell on the day after the surgery.
“I was still snowed,” Day said wryly.
Brinser-Day teared up a bit as she recalled thinking, “This is the best anniversary I ever had” with the man she is now calling “Titanium Tim.” She put his wedding ring as far as it would go on his swollen finger and said, “Happy anniversary.”
Day began feeling better right away, but one week later, the alarm on his pump went off. For reasons his doctors don’t fully understand, Day’s blood had clotted in the pump and completely blocked it. His surgeon opened Day’s chest again and replaced the pump.
“They had told us there was a possibility of a clot they’d have to clear out, but it turned out to be major,” said Brinser-Day.
After implanting the new pump, Day’s surgeon sat down with Brinser-Day and explained that although people live with the pumps for years, the clots made her husband’s condition perilous.
“I asked what happened if this one gets clotted, and the surgeon said they can’t give him another pump after this one,” she said. “He will need a transplant. That was hard to hear.”
Stabilized after surgery and on blood thinners, Day was cleared to go home last week.
His stay at Strong Memorial was eased by support from family, friends and co-workers.
“One-hundred-twenty-eight days, and I got a visitor every day,” said Day, with a note of wonder in his voice.
But it did make normal family life impossible. Little Henry was often bored in the hospital room, usually asking to play video games or to watch cartoons.
The day Brinser-Day drove to Rochester to bring her husband home, he was matter-of-fact about it until they got three blocks from home and began to see familiar streets in the Kenmore neighborhood they love. Then he wept.
Meanwhile, Erin was telling neighbors excitedly, “Did you hear the news? Daddy is coming home!”
“She was so thrilled to share that,” Brinser-Day said.
The welcome home was emotional, but it didn’t last. “Within an hour, the kids were back to normal,” Brinser-Day said.
Day is able to walk around with the use of the portable battery pack that powers his pump. His stamina has been good. He would have loved to have gone to the Tragically Hip concert last week, but he ultimately decided it would be too much.
There have been some restrictions on family life. The children were told that they have to be careful around Day’s computer and batteries, and to stay out of the room when Brinser-Day changes his sterile dressing. But when they were scrambling to get out of the house recently, Erin reminded them to take the bag containing extra batteries for Day’s pump.
“This is starting to integrate itself into our lives,” said Brinser-Day.
The ultimate solution for Day is a heart transplant, and they are hoping that his name will remain high on the list to get a donated heart.
But the key problem remains the relative scarcity of donated organs in this state.
“Organ donation has become our cause, not just for myself, but for all the people who are sitting waiting for their turn,” Day said. “It surprised me to learn that New York State is near the bottom of the states for organ donation registry.”