The Winter Garden resident is receiving a heart pump this week that will extend his life.
Randy Nelms was just 40 when he had double-bypass surgery 21 years ago. Now 61, he has had five heart attacks and a stroke in the last 18 months and has been in the hospital nine times this year alone for heart-related issues.
“I’ve got a lot of stints in me,” the Winter Garden resident said.
Nelms has been dealing with the effects of heart disease for two decades, and he is diabetic — two medical issues that are prevalent on both sides of his family.
“A doctor told me, ‘Unfortunately, you have bad genes.”
Those bad genes have taken their toll on Nelms, who is scheduled to get a left ventricular assist device — a heart pump — implanted in his chest this week.
“I’m staying positive about it,” he said. “What’s happened is the left side of my heart that actually pumps blood into (my) body has weakened drastically. … (The LVAD) actually assists the heart in pumping blood for the heart back into the aorta, and it gives me more oxygenated blood so I can have more blood pumped to my hands and feet and brain.”
The surgery will extend his life from two to five years, but Nelms said he knows of people who have lived another seven to 11 years with their heart pump. He initially was hoping to be added to the heart transplant list but said he is not eligible to receive a new heart because of the diabetes.
“I’m very positive,” he said. “I believe this is going to give me extended life and a better quality of life.”
There are limits to what he will be able to do, however, especially any water sports.
“I can’t go swimming or go on a boat because the LVAD is driven by batteries, the power to it,” he said. “And if I get wet, totally submerged, I can get electrocuted.”
He will wear two external batteries in a vest, and each battery will last 12 to 13 hours. While the batteries are charging at night, Nelms also will be plugged into a wall outlet to keep the pump working.
“If my batteries were to go dead, and I didn’t have another set of batteries, I have 15 minutes to live,” he said.
Nelms will be at Tampa General Hospital for up to six weeks, recovering from the surgery and learning how to use the equipment. Doctors will be making sure his body doesn’t reject the device.
Once he returns home, Nelms will need 24-hour care for up to six months. A close friend has offered to care for him.
Nelms has had a lifelong career in sales, but he switched gears when his brother bought a Duck Donuts franchise and asked Nelms to run it as general manager. The business was closed in March because of COVID-19. Nelms has applied for disability benefits through Social Security and is awaiting a response.
Nelms’ wife, Pam, works with the Orange County Clerk of Courts, and although the couple has good medical insurance, it doesn’t cover all the expenses or the copays and deductions.
To reduce expenses, the Nelmses have sold many of their belongings and downsized.
“Covid didn’t make anything better for any of us,” Pam Nelms said. “It hit us hard. You do what you have to do. … We are blessed.”
A friend, Ron Sikes, started a fundraising page on GoFundMe after hearing of Randy Nelms’ plight.
“I was made aware of the need for assistance regarding the heart pump through our church’s Community Group, of which Randy and Pam are members,” Sikes said. “I felt that we could help with the administration of the fund and allow Randy and Pam to focus on getting him healthy. The response of the community has been overwhelming. … We keep a record of every dollar raised and every dollar spent.”
Randy and Pam Nelms said they feel blessed to have friends such as Sikes and others who have donated to the fundraiser.
“It’s been huge,” Randy Nelms said.
“It’s improved our quality of life,” Pam Nelms said. “We’re just so grateful. We’re holding our heads up and staying positive, and we know the Lord will provide. Everything’s a gift.”
As Randy Nelms prepared to head to Tampa earlier this week for the surgery, he acknowledged his gratitude and hope for his future.
“It’s unbelievable what we’re going to have to go through to extend my life,” he said. “I’m in the Lord’s hands, I know that. … It’s going to be an adventure.”