Give Me the Batteries!

The scramble to keep a man alive

By Jeff Nguyen
|  Saturday, Aug 7, 2010  |  Updated 11:52 AM PDT
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Rescuers Scramble to Find Batteries

NBCSanDiego

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Rescuers Scramble to Find Batteries

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John Merrill says his wife typically reminds him to bring along his spare batteries every time he leaves their El Cajon home.

On Wednesday, she was busy as he walked out the door.  It was a trip that could have had deadly results, that's because his heart pump nearly ran out of battery power.

Mr. Merrill forgot his spares when he headed to Balboa Park to perform with his band at a concert. He called home to ask Marlene to bring him some extras.

"I got tired of sitting here passively and thought I¹m not going to die here in the car," Merrill said.

So he proactively drove over to Scripps Mercy in Hillcrest hoping to find a life line, but the hospital didn't have the batteries he needed.

"They picked up the phone and started going to various sources," Merrill said.

The staff at Mercy found the closest available battery was at Sharp Memorial hospital and put Merrill in an ambulance to get him through rush hour traffic.

 They didn't know if there was as little as two-minutes worth of battery life left.

"I did my best to instill confidence in him we were going to get there no matter what,” Paramedic Mark Alnwick said.

As luck would have it, Alnwick got trained a week earlier on the specific heart pump implanted in Mr. Merrill -- a left-ventricular assist device or L-VAD as it¹s commonly known.

Supervising nurse Stephen Houlahan got the call at Sharp Memorial to round up the batteries. He and a team of doctors and nurses waited in the parking for the crucial hand off without skipping a beat.

Merrill says, "They opened the door and I said, yippee! Hi, I made it!  Give me the batteries!"

If the L-VAD heart pump sounds familiar, that's because the device made headlines last month when it was implanted in former vice president Dick Cheney.
 

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