Back in the winter of 2000, Rick Eding went to the Zeeland Community Hospital emergency room with a sinus infection.
The then-25-year-old never expected the experience to reveal a much deeper and mind-numbing problem: severe heart problems.
“I was totally blindsided,” the Hamilton, Michigan, resident said. “I had cough and cold symptoms and sinus pressure in my head.”
ER doctors gave him a prescription for Bactrim, an antibiotic he’d tolerated well in the past. He started on the medicine, but within a couple of hours, allergic reactions flared—red skin, lethargy, difficulty breathing.
His dad drove him back to Zeeland Community Hospital.
By the time he arrived, his blood pressure nosedived.
“I felt like I had a brick wall on my chest,” Eding said. “I didn’t know what in the heck was going on. Basically, I went into cardiac arrest.”
Emergency response teams rushed him to Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“I bounced back alright, even with cardiomyopathy,” Eding said as he dropped his 15-year-old son off at Hamilton High School football practice.
But as the years went on, Eding’s weight went up. And his heart function went down.
Working as an electrician, he traveled across the United States and Canada.
“I just kind of wrote it off as, ‘I’m traveling, I’m not eating like I probably should. I’m getting older,'” he said. “It got to the point where I couldn’t do anything. I was probably 300 pounds. I had chronic fatigue, shortness of breath, all those classic symptoms.”
Diagnosis? Heart failure.
At 31 years old.
“From 2006 to 2011, I really battled the heart failure thing,” Eding said. “I was constantly in and out of the hospital. In 2011, the decision was made to have an LVAD placed.”
An LVAD, left ventricular assist device, picks up slack for the heart and helps it pump blood as it should.
“Basically it got to the point where they needed to do a tandem heart,” Eding said. “It’s an exterior device that buys you time. They needed to do something within a day or two or there wouldn’t be any choices. It was very scary. I was young. I was married with kids and the whole bit.”
Doctors placed Eding on the heart transplant list. But the more he waited, the more he weighed.
His weight spiked to 330 pounds—60 pounds more than when he got the LVAD.
Then, in 2013, more devastating news.
His growing weight made him ineligible for a heart transplant.
“The worst thing for me was hearing, ‘We need to take you off the transplant list. You’re too big,’” Eding said. “It’s like a kick in the teeth. It’s horrible. The glimmer of hope you had of having a good life … gone.
“Being so young, the goal of a transplant was totally getting your life back,” he said. “That goal was stomped on. It wasn’t even attainable at that time.”
Eding dove into research—diets, surgeries, “you name it.”
He tried a slew of diet plans with minimal success.
“I would drop 20 pounds and in some way or some form, I’d have a setback and ‘boom,’ the weight comes back on,” he said.
Eding learned about patients experiencing similar frustrations with an LVAD, and how they had success with bariatric surgery.
He spoke with Michael Dickinson, MD, a cardiologist with the Spectrum Health Richard DeVos Heart and Lung Transplant Clinic.
“It was like, hands down, I’m ready,” Eding said.
He met with Spectrum Health bariatric surgeon Jon Schram, MD.
“We took our time to make sure everything was good, which was very reassuring to me,” Eding said. “The surgery was done at the Meijer Heart Center. He was confident in what he had to do and that made me feel real good. “
Dr. Schram performed a sleeve procedure last October.
“We removed about 80 percent of his stomach,” Dr. Schram said. “The stomach is shaped like a big flask. We changed the shape of the stomach to about the size of a small banana.”
That does two things. It limits how much food the patient can eat at one time and also limits a hormone produced by the stomach that regulates hunger.
“By removing that much of the stomach, we create a situation where he’s not as hungry all the time,” said Dr. Schram, who performs about 400 of these surgeries per year.
Dr. Schram said the unique partnership between Spectrum Health’s bariatric division, cardiothoracic division and advanced heart failure team gave Eding a second chance.
The weight loss results? Almost immediate.
“It was like a pound a day for the longest time,” Eding said. “Yesterday I was 268.”
Best of all: As of late January, he’s back on the transplant list.
“I’m just ecstatic,” Eding said. “It’s unbelievable this roller coaster I’ve been on, with the highs and the lows. I’m definitely flying high and so thankful and so blessed to be back on the list.”
The father of six is feeling blessed to be living a more normal life while he waits. No more hospital stays and no harsh symptoms.
The LVAD seems to be doing its job.
That means more time for fishing with his kids, more time for coaching Little League baseball, more time to dream of a future that could be there if the stars align and he gets a new heart.
“He’s not being held up by his weight now,” Dr. Schram said. “He’s just waiting for a donor. He suffers from severe heart failure. The longer he goes without a heart, there’s a possibility his heart could give out.”
But giving in is not an option.
“A lot of people would have given up a long time ago,” Eding said. “But I dug my feet in and put my nose to the grindstone and really took it head-on.”
And he has another goal: swim with his children again.
Since the LVAD is an electrical device, he can’t swim with it in him.
A transplant, of course, could change all that.
“I can’t wait to go swimming again,” Eding said. “The kids all love to swim and go to water parks. I feel like I’ve robbed them of being able to do that with them. As soon as I get the go-ahead, we’re going to Great Wolf Lodge or Michigan’s Adventure and we’re hitting the water park.”