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Local trial gives heart patients a second chance

MILWAUKEE -- Whether friend, loved one, or acquaintance, many have been touched by the pain and loss of heart disease. Many over the age of 65 who had heart failure didn't qualify for a heart transplant. But a new HeartWare device trial is giving patients a new lifesaving option.

It's a bird, it's a plane, it's 81 year old Jim McKinnon, a patient in Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center's trial program. McKinnon heads to his treatments dressed in a Superman costume as a reminder of his strength. He says he wasn't always overcoming heart disease with a single bound.

\"I was very weak. I could hardly walk. I was literally at death's door. There was nothing more he could do for me.\"

His son Mark watched his decline-- \"It was depressing. He didn't want to do much. He was lethargic and that was because the heart wasn't working.\"

Out of options, McKinnon joined St. Luke's Medical Center's clinical HeartWare trial. The trial is for a new small heart pump that would especially help people over 65. It was enough for Jim to sign up for the surgery.

\"I signed it Clark Kent, not sure if my wife is Lois Lane or not.\"

Jim and his son embraced surgery day by putting McKinnon in his Superman outfit. 

Mark McKinnon, his son says, \"He's been through a number of different surgeries, number of bypasses, this is number three, so we gave him the name Superman.\"

Jim McKinnon says, \"My daughter bought a Superman cape and proudly hung it in my room.\"

Dr. Vinay Thohan, at St. Luke's Medical Center says the trial is creating more options for patients.

Dr. Thohan says, \"What's happened is over the last few decades the devices have been miniaturized, so the device Jim has can fit in the palm of your hand.\"

The trial has 450 patients with more than 300 that are local. It's expected to end in 2016. If it's approved by the FDA the HeartWare device could be covered by insurance in the next two to three years.

Dr. Thohan says, \"This device can be a lifesaving intervention.\"

It can be lifesaving if surgeons like Dr. John Crouch continue to have positive outcomes for patients like Jim.

Dr. John Crouch says, \"We have a pretty good indication by the next morning, that's when we can all take a sigh of relief.\"

Jim's surgery was a huge success, and he's now expected to live 5 more years.

Jim says, \"Well it means I can get to my grandson's wedding next October. I have the pleasure of having two new grandchildren.\"

Like Superman, he's feeling stronger by the day, \"Am I leaping tall buildings in a single bound? In another year maybe. I'm at a small stairway and working on that.\"

He says by taking a leap of faith, he's proud to be paving the way for others in his age group to have an option-- to live.

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