LVAD keeps local woman going

Like many people, Carlynn Robinson is trying to lose weight.

Unlike most others, however, there is seven pounds she carries with her constantly that keeps her alive.

Robinson, who lives just south of Linden, has used a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) since September 2011. It does the work that the left ventricle of her heart is too weak to perform.

In April 2000 Robinson suffered a mild heart attack and was diagnosed with congenital heart failure, a blow to someone only 44 at the time. Dr. Ronnie Chu referred her to Dr. Farrel Mendelshon of Princeton Hospital in Birmingham.

Through a series of stents, a pacemaker and triple bypass surgery, Robinson fought her condition for more than a decade and has the “battle scars” to prove it.

Then her son, Dr. Eric Robinson, a specialist in internal medicine, consulted with Dr. Mendelshon and decided the next step was a heart transplant. To be eligible to go on the transplant list, however, Robinson needed to lose about 100 pounds. She has 25 more to go.

While she loses the weight, Robinson must use the LVAD, what she calls her “lifeline.” She has been in the hospital four times since having it installed because of infections around the driveline. As a diabetic, she also found her sugar levels unstable, which required more treatment.

Still, in spite of the problems, she is grateful for the LVAD. She hopes to lose the final weight within the next few months to enable her to go on the waiting list for a heart.

Her activities remain limited, but with the LVAD she has more energy. “The main thing is it’s keeping me here,” she joked.

She can cook and takes slow walks but still gets tired and cannot do housework. Since she cannot drive, her husband, Albert Robinson Jr., serves as chauffeur. Granddaughter, 13-year-old Amber, and two neighbors have been trained on the LVAD in case of an emergency. Robinson is looking for a bigger pool of volunteers to take the load off her family.

Wearing the LVAD requires a daily diagnostic of the equipment. She uses batteries to run it during the day and plugs it into an electrical outlet at night. Robinson always carries a spare, although she has had no problems with the unit.

Each month she and her husband travel to Birmingham for a checkup. Follow-up testing is done at Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital as needed.

Coming from a family with a history of heart disease, Robinson said she should have been more aware of the obstacles she faced and wishes she had taken better care of herself when she was younger.

Robinson is the first person known in Marengo County to use the LVAD. Robinson has spoken with a woman in Marion who is on an LVAD and is doing very well. The device came to the public’s attention when former Vice President Dick Cheney used one before his heart transplant.

Having to use the LVAD is not an easy transition. “It will help. You’ve got to make a lot of adjustments,” said Robinson. “It’s a hard adjustment, but I’m still here.”