One patient’s story of ignoring symptoms: ‘I was dying’


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Daniel Brill today (top) and in 2012 (bottom).

It’s so important to take action when something isn’t right with your health. Every day, we see patients who have ignored symptoms for years.

It’s always better if doctors can treat problems sooner rather than later, especially heart-related issues.

Earlier this year, I met a man named Daniel Brill who came to us with congestive heart failure. He’s doing better now, but he still faces serious challenges because he ignored his health for many years. I invited Daniel to share his story, in his own words:

When I got to the hospital, I had 24 pounds of extra fluid in my body. My legs were the size of tree trunks, and my feet were so swollen that I couldn’t wiggle my toes.

I had noticed the swelling and had shortness of breath regularly. I ignored the symptoms and thought they would go away eventually. I was taught that people should take care of themselves unless they’re dying. I got scared one night when I couldn’t breathe. As it turns out, that’s what was happening – I was dying.

My wife, Edna, took me to our local hospital, where I was admitted right away for congestive heart failure. My condition got so bad that I didn’t recognize my own wife. I developed a couple of infections, and then I went into a coma that lasted for two weeks.

When I woke up, the doctors told me they had run out of options for me. I was transferred to UT Southwestern.

Dr. Drazner said I needed surgery to install a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) to help my heart pump. He was very clear with my wife. Without the surgery, I would be dead within six months.

Dr. Meyer installed the LVAD on July 3, 2014, and my condition quickly improved. When my wife saw me after surgery, she joked that it looked like I had gotten a tan. With my heart working better, so much color had returned to my face.

Today, I’m getting back to the life I want to have. I can walk without getting tired, I can cook, and I can wash dishes. My eyesight has improved so much that I need to get new glasses.

Looking back, it’s easy to see why I had problems with my heart. I worked 13 to 18 hours a day, six days a week, driving or dispatching cement trucks. Every day, I would get two double-meat, double-cheese burgers for breakfast. I slept only a few hours a day. I was always on the go, and I didn’t take care of myself.

Because I was always working, I missed a lot of school plays and dance recitals. Since the surgery, I’ve been able to do those kinds of things. I recently attended my granddaughter’s graduation, and I was at the birth of my great-grandson. Without UT Southwestern, I wouldn’t have been able to experience those special moments.

UT Southwestern saved my life. The doctors and nurses were great. It seemed like they knew me personally right away. They took the time to explain every detail. I never got the feeling that I was just another patient. I’m very thankful for the care I continue to receive.

We are still working with Daniel to improve his health. He needs a new heart but won’t be able to get on the transplant list until his kidney function improves. His story is unique, but the attitude he once had about his health is not.

Another life saved

Just a few weeks after Daniel’s surgery, his wife’s brother passed away unexpectedly at age 55 from a brain aneurysm. The man was listed as an organ donor. Because of Daniel’s positive experience at UT Southwestern, Daniel’s wife told a nurse she hoped a patient at our hospital would receive some of her brother’s organs.

As it turned out, that’s exactly what happened. A patient at UT Southwestern received the man’s lungs. We were able to help Daniel by implanting an LVAD and, as a result, improve the quality of his life. It’s wonderful that his family was able to help another UT Southwestern patient.