Eli Ruiz | Democrat
Daquain Jenkins of Monticello, 29, is waiting for a second heart transplant while a mechanical heart powered by this pump keeps him alive.
The beating of his mechanical heart is the sound of life
Story by Eli Ruiz
MONTICELLO The first thing one notices upon meeting 29-year-old Daquain Jenkins is that sound.
It’s a steady, ticking-clock sound that follows him everywhere he goes. Except it’s not a clock it is his mechanical heart. Yes, Jenkins has a fully mechanical “ticker.”
As the first person in the entire tri-state area with this distinction, Daquain has garnered lots of New York City media attention but it has also been quite a journey for Daquain and his family.
As his stepfather Al Dumas tells it, in 2008 Daquain developed symptoms of pneumonia and was subsequently diagnosed with congestive heart failure.
“It was a really tough time for us all,” said Dumas. “We didn’t know how this would turn out… his biological father died of the same ailment when Daquain was very young.”
A pacemaker was tried, but Daquain’s heart just got worse, so on April 19, 2011 Daquain underwent a heart transplant.
To be included on the national waiting list for an organ transplant there are certain criteria a patient must meet, including finding a “transplant team” that is willing to treat him or her.
The transplant team consists of a group of surgeons, nurses and other specialists that evaluate the patient and decide whether he or she is a good candidate for transplant. Daquain’s transplant team was 25-deep and included surgeons and specialists from as far as Phoenix, AZ, and London, England.
In addition to assessing the patient’s physical health, the team also considers the patient’s attitude, psychological state and history of drug abuse, among other factors.
Donated organs are a rare and precious commodity, and therefore doctors will not proceed unless confident that the patient is prepared not only for the actual procedure but also for life after the procedure. Once the team green lights the procedure, they contact the UNOS Organ Center in Richmond, VA, in order to place the patient on the national waiting list.
For a little over a year Daquain’s body seemed to be accepting the donor heart and he was thriving.
But after about 14 months, it started to fail him. “That was an even tougher pill to swallow because he was doing so well after the transplant,” said Dumas.
On Father’s Day of this year, Dumas said, “Things just started going downhill for him all over again.”
Daquain who has three children of his own started to feel the same heart palpitations, cough and shortness of breath that led to his original diagnosis. By July 7 Daquain was back at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in NYC where he was put on a battery of medications to stress his heart back to normal function, but nothing would help his donor heart. That was when the decision was made to go with a mechanical heart until a second donor heart could be found for him.
By August 17 Daquain was under the knife again, enduring a nearly nine-hour surgery to place a mechanical heart in his ailing chest.
The surgery was a success, but first Daquain was tethered to, as his mother Mary put it while pointing to the large refrigerator in the kitchen of the Dumas household, “A machine the size of that refrigerator right there.”
“Obviously he couldn’t get up and go hooked up to something like that,” said Al Dumas. Indeed, as his mother explained, “It took a team of nurses just to usher Daquain to the bathroom.”
Doctors knew Daquain’s second wait on the national waiting list might be a bit longer than his first, so they offered to place him on an experimental system called the Freedom Driver. The system consists of a much smaller driver that is carried in a bookbag-like pouch. The driver weighs about 25 pounds and affords the patient the freedom to convalesce from home while waiting for a new donor heart.
The Freedom Driver also allows the patient to care mostly for themselves and according to Dumas, “Shoot, I call him [Daquain] Doc. Because he changes all his dressings and takes complete care of himself… should have known, though, he’s been that way since he was a child.”
Daquain’s release date was October 25 and according to Dumas, “There were several New York media outlets there to cover Daquain’s release… ABC, CBS and even Reuter’s was there, it was something else.”
All of the media attention made Daquain fully aware of the importance of what he was actually going through, but before going home he was required to attend a Transplant Living Center (TLC) where he would be drilled on living with his mechanical heart and the daily care such a machine would require.
Last Thursday Daquain got to go home and be with his family but more importantly, be on his own.
Yesterday Daquain got to celebrate his 29th birthday with his family, thanks to the mechanical heart that rests in his chest and makes all that noise.
“We couldn’t be happier with how this has turned out,” said Dumas. “For my wife and I to know that our son is participating in such an important trail and for his sisters to know they have their brother back, we have our son back and his children have their father back… we just feel blessed to have him home.
As for Daquain, he said simply, “I’m making history.”