VAD and Heart Transplant Patient Greg Small

Greg Small heart transplant recipient

In May of 1996, I was diagnosed with a viral infection that affected my heart muscle. I am a veteran of the Gulf War, and some people speculate that I may have been exposed to elements in that environment that caused me to get sick. But the truth is, we don’t know. After the infection, my heart never returned to normal size.

I was 24 years old at the time.

My health started getting bad again in May 2005 and was functioning at only 10%. I came to UMMC and was put on a pic line. They listed me for a heart transplant on May 17, 2005. On July 12, 2005, UMMC's surgical team implanted a Ventricular Assist Device (VAD) as a last resort. A heart transplant had become my end goal and the only option for my survival. I was now 33 years old and living with a VAD.

I lived with the VAD for about 10 months, and I got used to feeling it vibrate in my stomach. Every day, even with my VAD, I walked on the treadmill for 30 minutes. The doctors had always told me, “The healthier you are going in to transplant, the better you’ll be coming out.” So I stayed as active as I could.

About this time, my grandfather was 92 and visited me at the hospital on my birthday. Just seeing him at 92 still getting around…whew. At that point I was 34 and didn’t know if I was going to see 35.

On May 27, 2006, I had my transplant. It was surreal. The surgery took nine hours.

The first night after transplant it was weird not feeling the VAD anymore. The beating was actually coming from my chest and not my stomach!

My recovery went fairly well and I was back to work within a year. I started going to the YMCA every day before work until I was able to run a 10k in Hanover, PA in 2010. I figured I’d try it again. So I ran two 10ks in July 2011, then I ran a five-mile veterans run and a 10k in July 2012.

I had been wanting to run a half-marathon but I wanted approval from Dr. Feller. My family wasn’t sure why I felt the need to run a half-marathon. They’d ask me, “What was I trying to prove?” I wasn’t trying to prove anything. I just wanted to enjoy using my healthy body again – something I’ll never take for granted.

When I asked Dr. Feller if I was ok to run the half-marathon, she said, “Why don’t you run a FULL marathon?”

On November 3, 2012 in Williamsport, PA, I completed my first half-marathon.

I hope to participate in more runs, but I have a four-year-old daughter now, and I have to balance my family time. She’s a miracle I didn’t think I’d get to see six years ago before my transplant.

I continue to work out 5-6 days a week and take care of my body. It’s been one heck of a ride.

I would especially like to thank the staff at UMMC for the most professional and caring treatment of a person and their family. My family and I still keep in touch with several of the wonderful caring staff that we came in contact with.

My ultimate goal in telling my story is hopefully to give hope and inspiration to other people and their families who are going through what I went through. Also, I’m hoping to continue running races for two reasons: to help motivate people to exercise to be healthy. If I can so can they. The second and most important reason of all is to help raise awareness of the need for organ donations and to let everyone know the possibilities.