Constable: Battery-powered LVAD dad celebrates the holidays

  • It's a happy Father's Day for Dantrell Brown, here with son, Josiah. The 25-year-old dad is alive because of a device implanted in his chest.

      It's a happy Father's Day for Dantrell Brown, here with son, Josiah. The 25-year-old dad is alive because of a device implanted in his chest. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Since last Father's Day, Dantrell Brown of Des Plaines has worked to control his Type 2 diabetes and is now on the waiting list for a heart transplant.

      Since last Father's Day, Dantrell Brown of Des Plaines has worked to control his Type 2 diabetes and is now on the waiting list for a heart transplant. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Unable to pass through metal detectors because of the Left Ventricular Assist Device in his chest, Dantrell Brown carries this letter with him, explaining how the device keeps him alive.

      Unable to pass through metal detectors because of the Left Ventricular Assist Device in his chest, Dantrell Brown carries this letter with him, explaining how the device keeps him alive. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • At night, dad Dantrell Brown plugs into a charger for the device that keeps him alive. During the day, he keeps the batteries in special pants so he can move around with his son, Josiah.

      At night, dad Dantrell Brown plugs into a charger for the device that keeps him alive. During the day, he keeps the batteries in special pants so he can move around with his son, Josiah. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Grateful for the Abbott HeartMate 3 device in his chest that keeps him alive, Dantrell Brown of Des Plaines recently moved up on the waiting list for a heart transplant.

      Grateful for the Abbott HeartMate 3 device in his chest that keeps him alive, Dantrell Brown of Des Plaines recently moved up on the waiting list for a heart transplant. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 6/19/2022 8:44 AM

Look! Up at that calendar! It's Father's Day! It's Juneteenth! It's LVAD Dad Day!

While there's no official holiday for the last of these, every day is LVAD Dad Day for mild-mannered father Dantrell Brown of Des Plaines.

 

"And every night, I have to plug into my charger, which sounds crazy," says the 25-year-old Brown, who plugs a wire from the Abbott HeartMate 3 planted in his chest into a device about the size of a gaming console. "That is how I get my power when I'm sleeping."

The Abbott HeartMate 3 is a Left Ventricular Assist Device, or LVAD (pronounced El Vad) for short. Brown has heart failure, so the LVAD moves blood through his body continuously, meaning he has no heartbeat or pulse.

"Feeling a pulse is not essential to living," says Dr. Shoeb Hussain, who, as director of heart failure services at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, is in charge of Brown's care. "This patient, without the LVAD, was not going to make it a year."

Brown had open-heart surgery to implant the device on Dec. 9, 2019, at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn.

"He's someone who has done very well with the LVAD," Hussain says. "He's taken good care of his LVAD. He's done his part. That's why he's doing well."

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Brown still is taking antibiotics while recovering from his biggest issue, an infection near where the drive line enters his left side. He spent two weeks at Advocate Christ Medical Center before coming home with medicines.

"Oh, we have a celebrity," Brown says, imitating the hospital staff who recognize his work on his "LVAD Dad" YouTube channel. Brown says he uses that channel to "tell everybody the truths, the goods and the bads." One of his videos takes the "deee-oh, deee-oh, deee-oh" mechanical sound of his LVAD ("Some say it sounds like a printer," Brown says) and mixes it with drums and other effects to make a musical beat.

Brown's wife, Maria Munguia, who works in patient care at NorthShore's Evanston Hospital, was 36 weeks pregnant with their son, Josiah, when the dad-to-be discovered his heart problem playing a pickup basketball game at a park on May 19, 2019. Feeling weak and having a difficult time breathing, Brown went to the emergency room at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital the next morning, where he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and given medicines.

"This is not happening to me," he remembers thinking. "I'm 22."

Shortly before Thanksgiving 2019, Brown felt woozy while playing with his baby son and eventually collapsed and lost consciousness. That's when doctors decided to implant the LVAD. Brown gave up his job doing food preparation in a nursing home when his heart condition placed him on disability.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Last year on Father's Day, Brown was dealing with a couple of additional issues. His mother, Berline Brown, who had several health issues, died of COVID-19. Recently diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, Dantrell Brown was working to get that disease under control so he'd be healthy enough to be added to the heart-transplant waiting list.

Having done that, Brown now is on the transplant list, and he recently moved from Status 4 to Status 3, which makes him a bit more likely to get a new heart.

"Sicker patients get the heart transplants first," Hussain says, adding that lots of factors, such as blood type and a patient's ability to undergo the surgery, are factored into those decisions.

While Brown says he could get the call for a transplant any day, he also is comfortable living with his LVAD. Hussain says some patients he sees have been living with an LVAD for more than a decade.

When Brown carries his son in his arms, you can't tell that he has cords running from a battery pack to a port in his side. While he can wear a shoulder bag that can carry the two batteries in use and the two backup batteries, Brown prefers a more discreet method of transporting that gear.

"This is a football girdle," Brown says of the tight pants with several pockets that he wears under his sweatpants. "Where the padding goes for football players, we just simply put our batteries. ... For me it's kind of like waking up, putting on a superhero suit, basically, and going about my day."

The positive attitude Brown exudes in his videos persuades other potential LVAD patients to reach out to him and learn about life with an LVAD.

"I feel special in a way, but in a good way," Brown says. "It's my job to tell the world about this. To know that I can make a difference in so many people's lives honestly means a lot. Hearing other people's stories, that's how I stay positive."

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