Al DiSalvio lives a happy, normal life in Bellmawr, New Jersey, with his wife and plenty of visits from his granddaughters. What you may not know from looking at Al, however, is that his heart has been on an extraordinary journey.
Dealing with Heart Failure
His heart story began in 2005 when Al was struggling with shortness of breath, fatigue and a nagging cough. He was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, a condition in which blood flow slows down and fluid collects in the veins and around the heart, causing excess fluid to build up in the body's tissues. Heart failure is a progressive disease, and Al was prescribed medication to control his symptoms.
A New Diagnosis
Soon after, Al began experiencing premature ventricular contractions (PVCs), abnormal heart beats that disrupt the heart's rhythm. His doctor also discovered scarring within Al's heart. Due to the severity of the arrhythmia, it was recommended that Al have an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) installed. This device monitors the heart rhythm and can deliver a shock if a dangerous arrhythmia is detected. Al's defibrillator ended up working hard: he required 54 shocks to regulate his heartbeat and once went into cardiac arrest, from which he was revived by his wife, a nurse.
The defibrillator saved Al's life, but it was clear that something more had to be done. He was referred to Dr. Sanjay Dixit, who specializes in treating complex arrhythmias. Dr. Dixit determined that cardiac ablation would be the best course of action. This procedure is used to correct the arrhythmia by destroying the tissue in the heart from which the abnormal rhythm originates. The team at Penn Medicine performed three ablation procedures, but the placement of the scarring within Al's heart was near a nerve, complicating the procedure. For Al, ablations would not be enough: he was placed on the transplant list to receive a new heart.
Waiting for The Call
Al and his family patiently awaited a call from the transplant team. After three potential matches were deemed not ideal, the fourth time turned out to be the charm. Al received the call and, after nine months waiting on the transplant list, sped back to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania for his surgery. Dr. Michael Acker, chief of cardiovascular surgery at Penn Medicine, performed the surgery, and was a great comfort to Al throughout his hospitalization. "He made me feel like I was the only person he was concerned about at that moment," Al explains. "It was a special feeling." With full faith and confidence in his surgeon and the entire team, Al received his new heart.
Today, Al is grateful for his new heart and the donor that made it possible for him to be here for the birth of his two granddaughters and to greet the opportunity of each new day. Al has also benefited from a bilateral knee replacement performed at Penn Medicine in April 2017. The procedure has allowed him to lead a more active lifestyle and better care for himself post-transplant.
Al takes pride in caring for the heart that he received, and his motivation for staying healthy is his donor. He says he has "Such an obligation to that person to keep up the heart in good condition." He and his heart have come a long way, and Al looks forward to many more years living life to its fullest.