Rachel Harper was no stranger to having tough conversations in doctor’s offices, being a cancer survivor and having lived with familial cardiomyopathy, a genetic disease of the heart muscle that often left her feeling weak and out of breath. Still, the 51-year-old mother of four struggled to process what her cardiologist told her at an appointment in 2019. After running some tests, her care team had discovered that Rachel’s heart failure was rapidly progressing, and she was in need of more serious intervention.
“Rachel, you are dying,” Dr. Kelly Axsom, medical director at NewYork-Presbyterian’s Centralized Heart Failure Management Program, remembers telling her. “But I’ll be damned if I let you die in front of me. You are a strong woman. You have so much to live for.”
Dr. Axsom presented her with two options: get a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), a surgically implanted heart pump that would help her weakened heart until she was able to get a transplant, or begin hospice care.
“I didn’t want to hear it,” Rachel admits, recalling how she stormed out of the appointment. “I didn’t want to make a choice.”
When she got home that day, Rachel cooled down and thought about how far she had come. In and out of local hospitals for years, she had been so sick that she could barely eat or stand up straight. Her family encouraged Rachel to seek care at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, and it was only then that she began to see improvement in her heart failure symptoms.
“My progress started at NewYork-Presbyterian,” Rachel says. “They took a chance on me, and I decided to come back and take that same chance.”
Rachel went back to the hospital and decided to undergo the LVAD implantation in August 2019, beginning her journey to a healthier life and a new heart.