A new perspective is often gained after facing and overcoming great challenges in life.

For 43-year-old Gabriel Cruser, the great challenge was a rapidly deteriorating heart. The native of Decatur County began having health issues like high blood pressure and rapid heart rate in his late 20s and 30s. He admits he didn’t take those warning signals too seriously, continuing to work around the clock and not giving his body much resting time.

By December of 2018, he was having difficulty breathing and thought he had pneumonia. Instead, doctors discovered that his left ventricular ejection fraction (the normal amount of blood that should be pumped out of your heart’s chamber) was functioning at 8 percent. During his ambulance transport to Columbus Regional Hospital, his heart stopped. After being revived, he spent the next 20 days in the hospital fighting for his life. With the new year came a pacemaker, but his heart function continued to decline.

In October 2019 – on his daughter’s 16th birthday – he received a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD), an electromechanical device for assisting cardiac circulation, used either to partially or to completely replace the function of a failing heart. For Cruser, the LVAD was a stop-gap measure until a matching heart donor could be found nearly a year later: October 13, 2020.

While he waited for his new heart, he worked diligently at getting as strong and healthy as possible with regular visits to DCMH Cardiac Rehabilitation. Beginning at a “Phase 2” status where he was monitored closely by an interdisciplinary team of nurses, respiratory therapists and exercise specialists for 12 weeks. Despite his compromised health, he graduated to “Phase 3,” which provided exercise much like in a fitness center with the benefit of having medical personnel close by. And when his big day came, he was ready.

“The transplant actually seemed like an easier recovery than getting the LVAD,” says Cruser. “Having your sternum cut and all the dressing changes for the LVAD… that was rough.” So, the days and months that followed the transplant were even sweeter. He returned home to Holton after only 11 days of post-surgery recouperation and restarted his Cardiac Rehabilitation activities at Decatur County Memorial Hospital.

Today, Cruser pushes to get in at least 6,000 steps a day and praises DCMH Cardiac Rehab. “It gives me a safe environment. There are people who can empathize… we are all from different walks of life, but we are all working toward the goal of getting and staying healthy.”

Audrey Fuller, BSN, RN concurs. “We can explain to them what is going to happen to their bodies and how they might feel, but having someone right there who has been through the same thing… that’s really invaluable to our patients.”

As he regains some normalcy to life, it’s with a greater commitment to his health and his family. “This is bonus time for me. I get to spend more time with my family… and less time on work. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed.”