July 23, 2018
Heart transplant team at The University of Kansas Health System gives local musician a new beat.
Playing the bagpipes with the Kansas City St. Andrew Pipes & Drums was a dream come true for John Findlay. His Scottish roots filled him with passion for this unique instrument. So, when a cardiologist told John he needed to stop playing, he realized just how serious his heart condition had become.
Findlay, 45, was first diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) during his college days at the University of Wisconsin. HCM is a genetic disease that makes it difficult for the heart muscle to pump blood to the rest of the body. For Findlay, it also resulted in abnormal heart rhythms. He did all right for several years, but in 2011, his health began to decline. That's when he made an appointment at The University of Kansas Health System.
"I couldn't climb the 15 stairs to our home's second floor without stopping twice to catch my breath," Findlay says. "I couldn't play with my sons. And the bagpipes were sending my heart into arrhythmia."
Cardiologists determined Findlay was experiencing advanced heart failure. They first treated him with medications, then recommended minimally invasive ablation procedures to stabilize his heart rhythms. The therapies were successful and kept Findlay healthy for a few years, but his heart continued to decline.
Sicker than he realized
Despite shortness of breath, fatigue and fluid in his chest, Findlay continued to work as a civil engineer for the city of Liberty, Missouri. His wife, Michelle, says he was in denial about how sick he was.
"John had a very stubborn form of heart disease with both a weakness and a stiffness of his heart," says his cardiologist. "He was experiencing atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter. An abnormal heart rhythm can be benign or it can be a sign of how sick the heart is. Not only was John's heart sick, his kidneys were starting to fail."
Some patients with Findlay's condition benefit from a left ventricular assist device (LVAD). An LVAD is surgically implanted below the heart to keep blood pumping. It can be a long-term solution or a temporary measure for those seeking a heart transplant. Unfortunately, Findlay's heart was shaped in a way that did not make him a good candidate for an LVAD.