At first, Elva Cardenas of Brownwood thought the phone call to her husband at 3 a.m. Monday had something to do with his job.
When she heard her husband, Ramon, mention Dallas, she wondered if something had happened to family members who live there.
“Elva, they have a heart for me,” Ramon, who is the operations manager for TXU in Brownwood, told his wife after finishing the phone call.
“Ramon, don’t tease me like that,” Elva said.
Ramon, whose doctors had told him months ago he needed a heart transplant, wasn’t joking. Hastened preparations were followed by a quick drive to Medical City Hospital in Dallas, and Ramon was wheeled into an operating room for an eight-hour heart transplant surgery.
“He has a heart,” Elva said by cell phone Friday from Dallas, four days after doctors transplanted the heart of an unknown donor into her 56-year-old husband’s chest. “It’s pumping. We’re just excited about it.”
But it’s also a time of mixed emotions, Elva said, because they know “someone lost a loved one” for Ramon to get a heart. “This was hard for us to accept, that someone had to give up their life for us to celebrate life,” she said.
“I just lift that family that gave him that heart, because without that consent, we would not be where we are.”
Elva said her husband is doing well. She said he’s comfortable and in excellent spirits. He’s already been up walking, and hospital staff were preparing to move him Friday out of the intensive care.
Elva said Ramon will likely be released from the hospital around the middle of next week.
Darinka Savor a registered nurse with the heart transplant staff, said Ramon’s surgery “went well.”
“His is up and walking,” she said. “We help him initially get out of bed, but other than that, he’s doing it. She said he’ll be moving this weekend to a monitored cardiac unit, which is a step down from intensive care.
Ramon was featured in an Aug. 24 article in the Bulletin.
In July, Medical City doctors inserted a heart pump called a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) to assist his failing heart until he could have a heart transplant.
One afternoon in August, Guardian EMS personnel and Brownwood firefighters listened as Savor told emergency responders what and what not to do if they were called on to assist Ramon with a heart-related problem, since he had the unique LVAD in his body.
Savor, accompanied by Cardenas and his wife, Elva, explained that afternoon the workings of the pump, its batteries and its system controller, how to interpret the various alarms, how to use a hand pump in the event the device failed.
It went on to work fine over the next five months, and Ramon never required emergency medical intervention.
Ramon said at the EMS station that his symptoms began in December 2005 with a chronic cough. Doctors determined his left ventricle was working at 8 to 12 percent efficiency and “couldn’t see how I was still alive,” he said.
The left ventricle is the left lower chamber of the heart that receives blood from the left atrium and pumps it out under high pressure through the aorta to the body, according to a medical-related Web site.
Speaking on her cell phone Friday, Elva described the whirlwind events of Monday morning, beginning with the 3 a.m. phone call. Once she realized the call was about a heart for her husband, “I probably did a little dance in circles,” she said.
“It was so exciting. It was too overwhelming. I felt my heart in overdrive. I told myself to calm down … we just kind of cheered, but at the same time feeling sad because somebody gave that heart …”
They quickly packed and drove to Dallas “a little faster than we should have,” Elva said. They arrived at the hospital around 7, and Ramon’s surgery began at 11. Before the operating staff took him away, “it was scary … We kind of kissed,” Elva said, breaking momentarily into tears.
Ramon was in surgery until 7 p.m.
During the surgery, someone called her from the operating room on the hour to give her updates — things were going well, she was told with each call. At 5 p.m., an operating room caller told her doctors had just put the new heart into Ramon’s chest.
She said when Ramon was awake enough to communicate, she told him “you’re a new man.”
“He kind of smiled,” she said.
At Woodland Heights Elementary School, where Elva works, principal Bob Turner said he’d seen Elva at Coggin Avenue Baptist Church Sunday. Then she called him early Monday morning and said she wouldn’t be at work that day.
“She said, ‘This is Elva … We are in Dallas. We have a heart,’” Turner said.
He said she asked him to notify the school just before that morning’s moment of silence. Turner granted that request. “I figured the ones who are pray-ers will pray for her,” Turner said.
“I am tickled to death for her. … tell her we miss her and she‘s a ray of sunshine around here.”
“What did he say again?” Elva asked when told what Turner had said about her.