The last thing Marcel Powell remembers before fainting in the emergency room of Hamilton General Hospital in May of 2015 is being with his goddaughter and fiancée. The 27-year-old musician awoke five days later in a hospital bed at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre with a mechanical pump secured to his heart.
“Marcel came to us in a severely compromised state,” recalls Dr. Viv Rao, Head, Division of Cardiovascular Surgery at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre. “He was put on immediate life support to maintain blood flow and oxygenation to his body’s vital organs. He had several blockages in his coronary arteries, which was unusual for a man of his age. There were some prior risk factors that led to this. As a result, Marcel underwent bypass surgery and subsequently needed a mechanical cardiac assist device to maintain his heart function.”
On May 28th, 2015, cardiovascular surgeon Dr. William Stansfield and a multidisciplinary team performed a delicate operation to implant the mechanical heart on Marcel’s left ventricle, the lower chamber of the heart that receives blood from the left atrium and pumps it out under high pressure through the aorta to the body.
The device uses a tiny, continuously moving propeller to help blood flow. The mechanical heart would support Marcel’s damaged heart until its function recovered or until a matching donor heart could be found. Like any major medical event, having a mechanical heart implanted and adjusting to life with it was stressful and emotionally difficult for Marcel.
The idea of having to learn about a new technology right after heart surgery was at times overwhelming. “I realized I had to make some drastic lifestyle alterations to adjust to life with the pump and adopt a healthier lifestyle,” says Marcel.
Light at the end of the tunnel
Marcel’s chances of finding a new heart were dim. Every year in Canada, more than 50,000 people are diagnosed with heart failure. Of those, 2,000 have advanced heart failure. There are approximately 200 heart transplants performed a year in Canada, leaving about 1,800 people across the country who are still in need of a heart transplant or who could benefit from a mechanical cardiac assist device.
Luckily for Marcel, his heart slowly started to regain its function with support of the device. A year and four months later, on September 28th, 2016, Marcel returned from his honeymoon to have his mechanical heart removed – a complex procedure whereby doctors had to work around a significant amount of scar tissue to partially remove the device.
“We essentially turned the pump off and cut off one part of the device so that there was nothing leading into Marcel’s heart anymore,” says Dr. Rao. “For Marcel, it’s important that he still recognizes that he has a heart problem, has had heart issues in the past, and is still at risk for developing heart issues in the future. He needs to be seen very closely by the PMCC cardiologists to
Marcel’s wife, Maria also credits the entire team who took care of him,including cardiologist Dr. Phyllis Billia, nurse practitioners Marnie Rodger and Jane MacIver. “They were nothing short of amazing, They helped keep Marcel alive, and you can be sure that he will repay that debt by taking better care of his heart.” (Watch Marnie explain how a mechanical heart works).
“I was given a second chance at life,” says Marcel. “Not a lot of people on the transplant list get off. I was extremely fortunate. I still have my entire life in front of me. And the only reason I’m alive today is because of the team at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre.”