“It never once occurred to me that maybe I should slow down and take another course in life,” says Briggs. “Not once.” He was used to an active life: diving, skiing and boating with Cindy and working long days distributing wholesale plumbing supplies.
When Briggs began having trouble breathing in 2001, he attributed it to allergies or a recurring bout of asthma. But his primary-care provider wasn’t so sure. And when chest X-rays showed signs of heart failure, it struck a chord — both Briggs’ father and sister had died young from congestive heart failure.
As he became sicker and tired more easily, Briggs was forced to cut back his schedule, working from home when he could. He had also received a defibrillator.
In 2002, Briggs came to UW Medical Center. Wayne Levy, M.D., UW professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology, and Jeanne Poole, M.D. ’80, professor and director of the arrhythmia service and electrophysiology laboratory, treated Briggs with a combination of medical and electrical therapy to interrupt electrical impulses that create abnormal heart rhythms. Later, they gave Briggs a pacemaker-defibrillator, capable not only of restarting the heart but also of supporting a declining heart rate. In 2008, Briggs was upgraded again, this time to a cardiac resynchronization pacemaker-defibrillator.
Despite these state-of-the-art technologies, Briggs’ heart failure was getting worse. Even taking the trash can from their doorstep to the road would leave him winded and struggling for air. In April 2009, his heart was pumping so poorly that he was hospitalized with kidney problems.
“His heart failure continued to worsen, which is the problem with heart failure in general: it is a progressive disorder. For most people, ultimately it’s going to get worse and require more aggressive therapy,” says Poole.
It was time to talk about a heart transplant.