Linda Sloan returned to her home outside of Maybell last week as the first woman to receive an artificial heart pump at University Hospital in Denver, said Diane Gould, Sloan's daughter.
As Sloan rode through Craig, her heart pump running on precious battery power, her family, including 12 grandchildren, stood at the roadside near Victory Way and Finley Lane and cheered her return with the honking of car horns and the waving of posters.
Sloan reportedly has no history of heart problems.
Her daughter said she was "very much so" active and healthy.
But on June 2, Sloan, 56, was stricken by intense pain in her chest and arms.
"She was on the floor already when paramedics arrived," Gould said.
Paramedics rushed Sloan to The Memorial Hospital in Craig. The next morning, Sloan was flown to St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Junction, and from there to University Hospital in Denver.
According to Gould, doctors informed her mother that severity of the heart attack had destroyed 95 percent of her heart.
Sloan needed a heart transplant.
She was moved to the top of the list of individuals awaiting heart transplants, Gould said.
In the meantime, Sloan needed an artificial heart to keep her alive.
"This (artificial heart) is just a bridge to the transplant," Sloan said. "I wouldn't have survived without it."
Doctors placed the titanium pump in Sloan's abdomen during a surgery on June 14.
Sloan underwent five surgeries in the last month, including procedures to hook up a defibrillator and a pacemaker to her heart, Gould said.
"She has everything that technology offers to keep her alive until a real heart becomes available," Gould said.
Dr. Joe Cleveland, who installed the pump, said less than 20 people have undergone the procedure at University Hospital.
The titanium pump is preferable to other options available to people in Sloan's condition.
One such procedure places a balloon pump in an artery in the leg of the patient.
The patient is subsequently bedridden, and the balloon only augments the heart's capacity by about five to ten percent. The titanium pump allows the patient to be more active, which stimulates recovery of other organs and makes the patient healthier going into the eventual heart transplant. Cleveland said the average waiting time for a donor heart for a person in Sloan's situation is between two and six months.
Gould said her mother is recovering well, despite being weak and tired.
Sloan said she feels a little stronger each day. "I'm going to go outside and walk around the yard today," she said Friday.
Just before Sloan returned home, University Hospital sent registered nurses to Craig to train doctors at TMH, emergency medical services personnel in Craig and Maybell, and members of Sloan's family how to operate the heart pump manually if batteries or electricity is unavailable, or if Sloan needs CPR.
Doctor Greg Roberts, who works in the emergency room at TMH, said the training helped to educate the local medical community so they would not be taken off guard by a patient with an artificial heart. The training also introduced the medical staff to the basics of the artificial heart, called a Vented Electrical Left Ventricular Assist System.
"The training has made us familiar with the device should she (Sloan) arrive," said Charity Neal, an emergency room technician at TMH.
Tom Soos, EMS director, said treatment of Sloan, in terms of medication and emergency care, is the same except that CPR is performed differently, due to the pump.
Soos and Neal both said that Sloan's family is well educated in troubleshooting and operating the heart pump.
The family actually pumped Sloan's heart with the power to the device turned off, Neal said.
Sloan said she was not nervous about leaving the relative safety of the hospital to return home, more than 30 miles from TMH. She has to watch out for electro-magnetic fields. She's can't turn on a TV or operate a vacuum cleaner, and she's not allowed to drive. But she said people in Maybell have been helpful by bringing meals to her and her husband and bringing anything else that might be needed from town.
According to Sloan, arrangements have been made to fly her directly from her home to University Hospital when a donor heart becomes available.
Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.