“I feel like if I had gone somewhere else, they wouldn’t have given me the care that Norton Heart & Vascular Institute provided.”
Written by Lennie Omalza | Photo by Mary Helen Nunn
Sponsored By: Norton Heart & Vascular Institute | 3 Audubon Plaza Dr Suite 310, Louisville, KY 40217 | Phone: (502) 636-8266 | Website: NortonHeartandVascularInstitute.com
When you’re living with advanced heart failure, daily routines can feel like a struggle. This is a fact that 28-year-old Alexis Helm knows all too well. “I couldn’t walk up steps,” she says. “I couldn’t stand and make a meal. I couldn’t carry my kids or play with them outside.”
Alexis learned that she developed heart failure after giving birth to her third child. She began working with Kelly C. McCants, M.D., executive director of the Norton Heart & Vascular Institute’s Advanced Heart Failure and Recovery Program, who is board certified in cardiovascular disease, advanced heart failure, and transplant cardiology.
Dr. McCants and his team worked with Alexis to manage her symptoms, but it wasn’t long before they determined that medication wasn’t going to be enough. “We felt that she was going to require more for her heart, which would be an artificial heart pump,” explains Natalie Kendall, APRN, the nurse practitioner who has been following Alexis throughout her treatment.
The pump, otherwise known as a left ventricular assist device, or LVAD, would be surgically implanted into Alexis’s heart, taking over the work of the left ventricle. “But, as Alexis was going in for the surgery that day,” Natalie recalls, “they were doing some pre-admission testing and discovered that she was pregnant.”
The surgery was subsequently cancelled, and Alexis was faced with a tough decision. Would she postpone the much-needed operation to deliver her fourth child, or would she terminate the pregnancy to proceed with the LVAD implantation? “They didn’t think I would even be able to carry the baby, or live after I delivered the baby,” she says.
Alexis knew that continuing with the pregnancy meant risking both her and her baby’s life. “But I still wanted to have my baby,” she says. “I told them I’d rather chance it.”
The Norton Heart & Vascular Institute’s Heart Failure team supported her decision, doing everything they could to ensure a safe pregnancy and delivery. “There was a bigger chance of not surviving than surviving,” Alexis recalls. “But Dr. McCants and the Norton team was always like, ‘You choose, and we’ll get you through.’”
“We knew it was going to be a very big challenge to keep mom and baby healthy,” Natalie says, adding that Alexis’s situation was quite unique. There is little to no literature or research to reference such a case, which meant the Norton Heart & Vascular Institute’s team was entering unknown territory.
Natalie worked closely with Dr. McCants and specialists with Norton Children’s Maternal-Fetal Medicine throughout Alexis’s
pregnancy. Together, they determined the tests, treatments, and medications Alexis would need to stay as safe and as healthy as
possible — and several months after cancelling her LVAD surgery, Alexis gave birth to a baby girl. “The baby was fairly small at birth,” Natalie says, “but required minimal NICU intervention.”
Five months later, Alexis was able to move forward with the LVAD surgery. Today, she is on the mend and better able to execute her daily tasks. “I’m able to cook,” she says. “I’m able to take care of my kids; I’m able to play with them. I’m able to walk up the stairs — but I notice that I have to go slower.”
Though her symptoms have vastly improved, this isn’t the end of Alexis’s heart-healing journey. “A heart pump is … good … for now,” Natalie says, “but it is not a lifelong solution for a young female. A heart transplant will be the best long-term solution for her.”
While Alexis prepares to get on the list for a heart transplant, she continues receiving support from Norton Healthcare to manage her symptoms as well as her surgery aftercare. “They’re really great,” she exclaims. “They call. They check up on me. They make sure I get to the doctor.”
Alexis adds that the Norton team goes above and beyond providing her with heart-related healthcare. If she needs transportation, they find a way for her to get to the clinic. If she doesn’t have childcare, they make accommodations for her children to accompany her to the appointments. And if she has other health questions or concerns, they provide resources. “I feel like if I had gone somewhere else,” she says, “they wouldn’t have given me the care that Norton’s provided.”