Batteries strapped to his sides power Ernest Scruse Jr.’s heart 

  • Dr. David Deaton is the surgeon who performed Ernest Scruse Jr.’s operation. One other patient has had the procedure done since Scruse’s surgery last fall. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Tanya Dwyer, nurse practitioner, talks about the ventricular assist device, which helps pump blood in the heart. Ernest Scruse Jr. is the first Baystate recipient of the device. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Lisa Collette, certified heart failure nurse, changes the bandages over the wound through which the power source tube enters Scruse’s body. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Dr. Gregory Valania, Scruse’s cardiologist, says that without the ventricular assist device, or a heart transplant, a patient like Scruse is extremely limited in what he or she can do. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBYErnest Scruse Jr. of Springfield, left, has his blood pressure taken by medical assistant Ana Clements during a check-up May 17, 2017 at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield. Scruse is the first Baystate recipient of a ventricular assist device, which helps pump blood in the heart.

  • GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBYDr. David Deaton displays a ventricular assist device, which helps pump blood in the heart, May 17, 2017 at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield.

  • Ernest Scruse Jr. reflects on the surgery during which he received a ventricular assist device, which helps pump blood in the heart. He is the first recipient of the device at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Lisa Collette, certified heart failure nurse, left, changes bandaging for Ernest Scruse Jr., who recently received a ventricular assist device to help pump blood in his heart. Scruse is the first patient at Baystate Medical Center to receive the device. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Lisa Collette, certified heart failure nurse, left, changes bandaging for Ernest Scruse Jr., who recently received a ventricular assist device to help pump blood in his heart. Scruse is the first patient at Baystate Medical Center to receive the device. His mother, Shirley Scruse, looks on, at right. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Ernest Scruse Sr., left, and Shirley Scruse, right, have stepped up to help their son in a big way. Though he lived in Springfield before the surgery, Ernest Scruse Jr. has moved in with his parents in Connecticut so they can provide the help he needs. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Shirley Scruse reflects on her son's surgery during which he received a ventricular assist device, which helps pump blood in the heart. Her son Ernest Scruse Jr. is the first recipient of the device at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Ernest Scruse Jr. was the first patient at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield to receive a ventricular assist device, which helps his heart pump his blood. The device is powered by batteries in holsters he wears at his sides. Above, he is at the hospital for a recent checkup. He had the surgery in October. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Lisa Collette, certified heart failure nurse, left, works to change bandaging for Ernest Scruse Jr., who recently received a ventricular assist device to help pump blood in his heart. Scruse is the first patient at Baystate Medical Center to receive the device. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

Staff Writer
Published: 5/30/2017 9:29:29 AM

Batteries are strapped to both sides of Ernest Scruse Jr.’s abdomen in what look like pistol holsters. When he showers, he puts them in plastic bags and must not forget to charge them. When he sleeps, the batteries sit in a station next to his bed. They are connected to a pump in his heart by a tube that goes through a hole just above his belly button. It's a permanent wound that helps keep him alive. Without a power source, his heart would fail.

“This has been a savior for me,” said Scruse, sitting in a lobby of Baystate Medical Center hospital in Springfield before a recent checkup. Aside from the batteries hanging at his sides, you would never know that he had major heart surgery in October to implant the pump, which is called a ventricular assist device.

At that time, Scruse, 55, became the first patient at Baystate to have the surgery. There has been one other operation done since his.

Versions of the pump have been around for many years, but until recently, it wasn’t available in western Massachusetts, forcing patients to travel to Boston, out of state, or simply wait for a transplant. If they must wait, patients often become sicker and sicker, said Dr. David Deaton, the surgeon at Baystate who performed the operation.

“There are some patients who are so limited that their quality of life is very low,” said Dr. Gregory Valania, a Baystate cardiologist. “Some patients become housebound. Normal activities like showering and bathing are really difficult to do.”

Grim diagnosis

Scruse never became housebound, but he knew that he needed the pump. Three years ago he learned that the muscles in his heart were damaged by what doctors think was the stress of high blood pressure. His heart was overworking and became enlarged.

Most physical activity became a challenge. He had to give up his job as a home improvement contractor. Playing basketball with his 17-year-old son, Justin, became too strenuous. He couldn’t handle the two flights of stairs to get up to his apartment in Springfield.

“I would become real winded, real fast,” he said. “I’ve always been athletic, I’ve always walked a lot, so when I noticed I couldn’t walk as much as I used to, that is when I had myself checked out.”

Muscle in the left side of his heart had died, leaving scar tissue. His heart was failing.

“The heart is a muscular bag, so when the muscle tissue dies and it gets replaced by scar — scar doesn’t squeeze, it doesn’t have any motion,” Deaton said. 

Intravenous medications didn’t help Scruse, nor did a pacemaker. Then doctors suggested the ventricular assist device.

He agreed to get the surgery, but had a hard time accepting that he would have to rely on a mechanical device for the rest of his life, since he is not healthy enough for a heart transplant.

“At Baystate I sat in my room and cried for three or five days just processing that,” Scruse said. “I was going through the process of accepting this whole situation. It’s a lot to endure. Who would want to walk around with battery packs for the rest of their life?”

Family, friends rally

Nurses and doctors reassured and comforted him. Family and friends visited him over the 51 days he spent in the hospital before and after surgery. His insurance covered the cost of the hospital stay and the $87,000 surgery. 

“Family is key, even having positive friends around you is key. You can’t be alone or be by yourself and deal with this,” he said. “You need someone to talk to, to be there to listen to you and not have an opinion.” 

After the surgery Scruse, who is divorced, needed a full-time caregiver, so he moved into his parents’ Connecticut home, where his father, Ernest Scruse Sr., could look out for him, change his bandages once a week and monitor his diet. His mother, Shirley Scruse, often comes along to doctor appointments and is a solid source of emotional support.

“My whole family has been there for me like a rock,” he said, including Justin, his older son, Ernest James, 34, and his daughter, Taylor Ball, 26.

Nearly six months after returning home, life is slowly starting to seem normal again. While there are certain things he never will be able to do — go back to work or play basketball with Justin, for example — he can take walks and help with chores. He cooks, he cleans his parent’s house, he washes his own clothes.

He is looking ahead to the future, excited to be able to go fishing with his father or to a baseball game with Justin. He says his fatigue is gone.

“He has too much energy. I have to tell him to calm down and take a break,” Ernest Scruse Sr. said.

“He can just about do anything he wants to,” Shirley Scruse added.

So far, so good

At a recent medical appointment, Scruse seemed carefree, smiling and cracking jokes. He walked from the waiting room, down a long hallway to see the doctor without having to pause. His parents walked with him and sat by his side while a nurse took his blood pressure.

Nurses and doctors here have become like family, he says. During the checkup he didn’t hesitate to help Lisa Collette, a certified heart failure nurse, tie the back of her sterile gown, before she changed his bandage.

“He is doing really, really well,” said another nurse practitioner in the room, Tanya Dwyer. “He is independent and he does pretty much everything.”

Aside from the battery packs hanging at his sides, he looks completely healthy. He has to charge the batteries every 10 to 12 hours and if the power goes out, he must get to the hospital before the batteries die. With only the right side of Scruse’s heart still pumping, the device is doing 75 to 90 percent of the work pushing his blood, says Valania, his cardiologist. He could get gravely ill, or even die if he is disconnected from a power source for any length of time, according to Valania. 

Scruse says he got used to carrying the batteries around pretty quickly after having the surgery. 

“So far, so good. I’m here and I am thankful for it. If I had to do it again — this time I would do it with no hesitation,” he said. “I haven’t had issues, no set backs since I’ve been home, so I am thankful for that. I am definitely on the right path to getting better.” “...If I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t be here right now to talk about it.” 

Lisa Spear can be reached at lspear@gazettenet.com.


Jobs



Support Local Journalism


Subscribe to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, your leading source for news in the Pioneer Valley.


Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061
413-584-5000

 

Copyright © 2021 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy