Heart Failure Won’t Keep Him From Starting Line at VAD 5K

Steve Nuttall is back in action thanks to a ventricular assist device. When faced with a challenge, Steve Nuttall's typical response is, "Bring it on." Born with transposition of the great arteries, Steve says he's "been a fighter all my life." He's had to be. The serious heart condition has required numerous surgeries over the years. "They told me I'd be lucky to make it to 18, then to 30," says Steve, who notes he's now 43.

Three years ago, Steve faced what would become his biggest challenge yet. He thought he was having a heart attack, so he went to a hospital near his home in South Dakota. After some testing, a cardiologist told him, "You don't belong here," Steve says. He was transported by Mayo MedAir to Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus, where he was "shocked" to be diagnosed with heart failure.

Before the diagnosis, Steve had been working as a mechanic and welder, and raising four children with his wife, Jennifer. After the diagnosis, life changed dramatically. He had to stop working and endured close to 20 hospital stays. It was getting harder to say, "Bring it on," Steve tells us. "I was frustrated. I was sick of being in the hospital in Rochester and missing things like birthdays back home," he says. "I didn't want to keep putting my kids through that." After talking with his care team, Steve decided to be placed on the waiting list for a heart transplant. A few months later, in July 2015, he had a ventricular assist device implanted to help his heart do its job while he waits for a new one.

When he returned home after having the device implanted, Steve initially struggled to walk the few steps between rooms in his house. But he slowly gained endurance, and now walks up to six miles a day. "His transformation has been amazing," says Trista Powers, a physician assistant and member of Steve's Mayo Clinic care team. Using a ventricular assist device "is life changing," Powers says, but Steve "has risen to the occasion and won't let it stop him from becoming as fit as he can." So fit, in fact, that he'll be joining Powers (who he calls "T-Pow") and many other members of his care team at the 5th Annual VAD 5K Run/Walk in Rochester on May 14.

Sarah Schettle, another physician assistant and member of Steve's care team, started the event to raise money to help meet the "unmet financial needs" of patients while also "encouraging heart healthy activity." (Check and check.) She says Steve's participation will be "an inspiration to other patients and a great example of what a patient can accomplish after heart failure is treated with VAD therapy." Steve thinks so, too. "I want to show other patients what can be done," he says. And that's something he also wants to show his care team – all of whom he says "go above and beyond" for him. "I keep telling them that I'm going to blow their minds," he says.

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