Michael Yater, a 51-year-old Essex man, was diagnosed with an inherited form of cardiomyopathy 16 years ago. Recently, his condition began to deteriorate to the point that a transplant became inevitable. When the call came that a heart had become available for him, Michael didn't let anything stand in the way of him getting to the hospital, not even the biggest blizzard in Baltimore's recorded history. With a little help from "the man upstairs," his neighbors and six snow plows, Michael made his way through the snow to UMMC, where his transplant was successfully performed on February 11, 2010. Read about his amazing story below.
Why did you need a heart transplant?
I have an inherited heart disease known as cardiomyopathy. There are different ways you can develop this condition. You can catch it virally, but mine was inherited through my dad. My dad died from it at 47, and my sister recently died from it at 53. I'm 51 years old, but I've known I've had it for 16 years.
What has your life been like since your diagnosis?
I came from Ohio originally, and the doctors there kept my heart rate low to where I wasn't stressing my heart. They implanted an ICD (Implantable Cardiac Defibrillator) in my chest, which would flip my heart if it went into a bad rhythm. In 2007, I had my third ICD put in, and I felt good for about four months. Then I started to deteriorate.
I was placed on the transplant list about 16 months ago, and they put me on medication to make sure that my heart was forced to beat right. I was told that the injection fraction of the heart is based upon how much force is required to push the blood flow through. A normal heart has an injection rate around 65, but you can function with an injection rate down to approximately 10. Mine was actually under 10, but I was still working 40-hour work weeks and going to cardiac rehab three times a week trying to keep my body built up.
In November, I had some complications and doctors had to do an ablation of my heart, and since then I have deteriorated quickly.
How did you find out about UMMC?
Another cardiologist had just about lost me near the end of 2007. He knew Dr. Erika Feller personally and he gave her a call and asked her if she would take over the case. She took over the case and I've been at UMMC ever since.
What made you decide to receive your transplant here?
The doctors I've been working with here have been fantastic, and I mean FANTASTIC. This hospital has been absolutely beautiful. I have spent my time over the years at five hospitals in Ohio and, so far, four hospitals here in Maryland, and this one far surpasses all of them. The care here makes you feel like you're family. I've had conversations with directors at this hospital, I've had conversations with the people who come around and strip the floors, and I've seen care all the way through.
What was it like traveling to UMMC during the biggest blizzard in Baltimore history?
Because of the how proactive the team here at the hospital was, I was notified about 24 hours ahead of time that there was a possibility of a heart becoming available for me. Dr. Feller called me on February 10 at 7:00 p.m., at which point we had already had 10 inches of snow and we had another 10 inches on its way. She told me to make any arrangements I needed to make sure I got to the hospital.
With that, I moved my 4-wheel drive vehicle out in the driveway. My wife went out and started cleaning the vehicles off. Neighbors got involved; they brought their kids over and they shoveled the snow, they cleaned my cars off, and they got the driveway and everything as clean as best they could. My neighbors were fantastic.
We got on the interstate, and as soon as I looked in my rearview mirror, I saw a convoy of three plow trucks. I got over as far as I could and let the plow trucks go by and I followed right behind them all the way to the tunnel. They can't go through the tunnel, so they cut off there and we went through. After we got out of the tunnel, we went up the ramp on the other side, which had been cleaned, but once we got to the top again, it started to get real slick.
We started getting concerned about the ramp, because by that time we'd already had probably four more inches of snow that had dropped during the morning. Then, three more plow trucks came out from a side ramp and actually started laying salt down Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. right in front of us. They went three wide again, and they cleared the roads all the way down to Pratt Street. The man upstairs was watching out for me. He cleared the roads all the way here to make sure I got here.
How has your recovery been?
My recovery's been excellent; it's actually been way ahead of schedule. I've only had this heart for eight days and I'm already looking to go home. I'm cutting off about four or five days from my stay already. My energy level is also through the roof. In the last two months, I had a hard enough time just walking through my house without coming back and being totally out of breath. Now, they've had to come find me around the rooms and through the hallways. It's been fantastic.
How would you describe the care you received during your stay at UMMC?
The care here is unbelievable. It's been like a family. The technicians, the nurses, they treat you like a family, and everyone has gone out of their way to treat my wife very well, too.
What do you think of Dr. Feller and Dr. Griffith and their staff?
Dr. Feller has been absolutely fantastic! She's one of the best doctors I've ever had. I met Dr. Bartley Griffith right before the surgery and he made me feel very comfortable; he made me feel that everything was going to be under control, even though the weather was out of control.
How do you think your life is going to change because of this transplant?
I have two boys, Michael Jr., who is 24, and Shane, who is 21. Shane and his fiancee just had twin boys in January and I have not seen them yet, so in another three months I'll be on my way to Cincinnati to hold them.
Another thing is that I'm going to renew my driver's license, and it's going to be marked as a donor. I fully understand that now. You never really think about this, but even when there's a tragedy in the family or a tragedy to yourself, that if you're at least a donor you can end up making a family member or a friend live longer.