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Monongalia County Man Lives Because of a Small Pump That Supports His Heart

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Not everyone is fortunate enough to qualify for organ transplants.

After a massive heart attack nearly killed him, a Navy Veteran from Monongalia County found out he didn't. To survive he relies on technology that leaves him without a pulse and a properly functioning heart.

Okey Simmons, 74, spends much of his day in his wood shop, perfecting his craft.

It's an art made possible by a small pump connected to his heart.

"I was talking to my brother on the phone, I said I'd have to hang up because I wasn't breathing well," said Simmons. I wasn't aware I was having a heart attack. I had just had three hip operations with different doctors, and each of them said what a strong heart I had, they said I had the heart of a younger man."

In November of 2012 Simmons had a massive heart attack that destroyed 90 percent of his heart.

"Once they got me cleaned up and figured out what was wrong I got two choices," he said. "Clean me up and send me home or put this in."

He had a Left Ventricle Assist Devise implanted in heart. It's a pump that constantly circulates blood through his body, but Simmons said it doesn't come without it's complications.

"You can't administer CPR to me, especially using those paddles," he said. "If you put those paddles on my chest and it would literally blow me up. That's the danger, and if these guys don't know how to handle somebody with this, they could kill them."

The LVAD pump is primarily used on patients waiting for a transplant. It leaves him without a pulse and if passed out, many could mistake him for dead. That's why he's trying to help learn more about it.

"We need to be taught about this," Simmons added. "The emergency personnel, local hospitals need to bone up on it, because just about every doctor has told me they never heard of it."

Doctors told Simmons patients usually live for several months with the device. He's made it more than a year. Which was far better than the alternative he was once left with.

"I may have lived for a few days, a few weeks. But I'd have had another attack and that'd be the end of it."