Davy Hobson was notorious for last-minute Valentine’s gifts. But on Feb. 14, 2013, he was ahead of the game.

“I’d bought my wife’s gift a day early for the first time since we were married,” he said.

When the home health nurse from Tyler, Texas, left for work that morning, he wouldn’t return home for seven months.

Soon after parking his car to see patients at an assisted living facility, Hobson, a former paramedic and registered nurse since 2002, perceived the light suddenly dimming and a sound roared in his ears.

“I had an ominous feeling that I was about to die,” he said.

He quickly said a prayer, dialed 911, and was in a life-threatening heart rhythm when the paramedics arrived a few minutes later.

Hobson, then 59, had been struggling to diagnose troubling cardiac symptoms for about three years. In 2010, he went to the hospital several times complaining of chest pain, numbness in his left arm and high blood pressure. He was eventually diagnosed that year with sick sinus syndrome – a group of heart rhythm problems related to the heart’s sinus node. Doctors implanted a pacemaker. Additional heart problems required an implantable cardioverter defibrillator in April 2012.

His symptoms seemed to stabilize, but in December 2012, Hobson’s heart rhythm became erratic, requiring shocks from his defibrillator more and more often as the weeks went by. His doctors made adjustments to medication and conducted an ablation procedure in January 2013.

Then on Valentine’s Day, after calling 911 for help, Hobson was diagnosed with “an electrical storm,” as his heart struggled to maintain a normal rhythm. As doctors at UT Southwestern in Dallas attempted to do an ablation to help stabilize the heart’s electrical system, Hobson’s heart stopped.

The team had to restart his heart twice. But he faced several life-threatening complications, including cardiogenic shock, a condition in which a suddenly weakened heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. The condition can be fatal if not treated quickly.

Hobson’s heart was so severely damaged that he needed a new one to survive. That’s when doctors proposed an experimental procedure to help Hobson’s heart continue circulating blood to his body until a donor heart could be found for transplant.

Heart failure typically affects the left side of the heart, and can be temporarily treated using a left ventricular assist device, or LVAD. But in Hobson’s case, both sides of his heart were failing.

Doctors made a bold plan to implant a second device on his right side, creating an experimental bi-ventricular system. The so-called BiVAD approach was in clinical trials in Europe at the time and had been attempted at a few other centers, but had never been tried at UT Southwestern, said Dr. Mark Drazner, Clinical Chief of Cardiology and Medical Director of the LVAD and Cardiac Transplantation Program at UT Southwestern.

Davy Hobson (left) with Dr. Mark Drazner, taken in January 2016 at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. (Photo courtesy of UT Southwestern)

Davy Hobson (left) with Dr. Mark Drazner, taken in January 2016 at UT Southwestern in Dallas. (Photo courtesy of UT Southwestern)

“When you’re faced with a desperate situation, you have to be creative in your approach and sometimes take risks in cases where convention and accepted therapies won’t fit the bill,” Drazner said.

The medical center subsequently implanted BiVADs for several other patients but in the five years since Hobson’s procedure has shifted away from the approach, Drazner said.

Officials for Medtronic, the parent of the BiVAD manufacturer HeartWare, said the company does not track BiVAD cases but believes a few hundred procedures have been performed worldwide.

Hobson got his new heart about four months later, in June 2013. He eventually returned to work as a home health nurse – but instead for UT Southwestern, becoming a colleague to many of the people who helped save his life.

“To take someone who was desperately ill and on death’s door and be able to keep him alive and restored to a good, healthy lifestyle was just breathtaking,” Drazner said.

Hobson took a sabbatical in October as he struggles to balance his desire to work with his health.

Now, 64, Hobson limits work to a few days a month. And he still tries to plan ahead for Valentine’s Day, which carries mixed emotions, even five years later.

“It was a dark day, but I’m grateful to be alive,” he said.

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