"It's my own personal opinion that heart failure is progressive and fatal if not treated correctly," said Tatum, who lives in Jacksonville, Fla. "Medications can only help so much."
"When I was sick, I wasn't living, I was dying," he added. "With the implant, I have the chance to watch my grandchildren grow up. They'll know who I am."
Thoratec employees, executives, patient ambassadors from across the country and caregivers of Thoratec's HeartMate II gathered last week for the second annual "HeartMate II Patient Ambassador Summit" at company headquarters in Pleasanton.
The HeartMate II is a device that supplies circulatory support for patients suffering from heart failure. It attaches to the heart and is "designed to take over the pumping function of the left ventricle."
Patients use it as a permanent solution or temporarily while they wait for a transplant. More than 10,000 patients worldwide have been implanted with the HeartMate II, and currently there are 4,500 patients who have it.
Thirteen patient ambassadors and their caregivers shared their stories with Thoratec employees at the summit last week.
"We invited these people from all around the country to spend a couple of days with us," explained Susan Hopkins, director of patient advocacy for Thoratec. "It's a lot like a company meeting that we as employees might attend; we hold working sessions about specific topics.
"The topics that these patients and caregivers are sharing with us are their experiences and insight with the HeartMate II. Really the topics of this event are patient empowerment and advocacy," she continued.
During the three-day summit, the participants were involved in several collaborative discussions, talking with Thoratec employees on topics ranging from clinical data to the easiest way to take a shower while wearing the external device controller.
"Our goal is to build a community, where our patients share information and give us advice that helps us with things like product development all the way to public awareness," Hopkins said.
The patient ambassadors were at different stages of using the device.
"Some have received transplants, others are waiting, and some have opted to forgo transplants," a spokeswoman from Thoratec Corp. "There's no one who's similar, everyone's got their own story. Yet when they gather, they form bonds with the employees and each other."
Patient ambassador Peter Quimby of Minneapolis, Minn., who is in his late 30s, was dying from a clot in his left ventricle on March 31, 2011. He was implanted with the device in April 2011 and has since been placed on the transplant list. In April of this year, Quimby received his YMCA National Group Fitness Certification.
"Heart failure is not a death sentence," Quimby said.
After spending 132 days in the hospital, Nicole Ludwig of Danville was implanted with the device. With its help, she regained her strength and became a candidate for a heart transplant.
Four months ago, Ludwig, who has a 7-year-old child, underwent a successful transplant at Stanford.
"I truly think that without the LVAD, I wouldn't be here. I was lucky that my doctors knew about it," Ludwig said.
No two stories were the same, and yet those who attended the summit all came away with a similar message:
"Having the opportunity to meet the other patients and members of the LVAD family was something special," said patient ambassador Laura Huber from Aberdeen, S.D.