Arthur Ruffino - Photographer, World Traveler
Travel and photography have always been passions in my life. On New Year's Day of 2013, I was on top of Machu Picchu. In April of the same year, I booked a 26-day world segment cruise originating in Dubai with ports of call in Qatar, Oman, Egypt, Jordan, the Suez Canal, Israel, Cyprus, Turkey, Greece, Montenegro, and ending in Venice. From Venice, I flew to Palermo for a land tour of the island of Sicily. Subsequently, I flew to Milan to visit relatives. In December and January of 201 3-14, I embarked on a one-month cruise of Hawaii and the South Pacific.
And in late March/early April of 2014, I visited Guatemala. Retirement from a teaching career had enabled me to travel at will rather than being restricted by an academic schedule. I was enjoying revisiting locales or visiting new destinations. By then, I had visited over 100 countries. But in May of 2014, everything came to a clashing halt. I was having dinner with friends. After the main course, I was talking to the host when all of a sudden I had a feeling that I was going to faint. I knew that I could not avert it. Fortunately, the host noticed that I was beginning to collapse and broke my fall. When I was revived, 911 was called, and I went to the hospital.
At first, I thought I was dehydrated, but when my cardiologist, Dr. Keith Meyer, came to see me at the hospital, he told me that the problem was not dehydration but my heart. He told me that I had two options: do nothing, with the caveat that I could faint again, but that the next time it could be fatal, or undergo surgery to have a defibrillator implanted. I opted for the latter.
One day, a few months after the surgery, I was shocked by the defibrillator three times. I called 911 and went into the emergency room at Good Samaritan Medical Center. There I was visited by Dr. Meyer and the newly arrived David Weisman, a cardiac electrophysiologist. Dr. Weisman suggested the insertion of a new defibrillator, one with three wires as supposed to two. The surgery was performed, and shortly after I returned home. Some months later, I once again started having episodes. An ablation was performed with little avail. Dr. Weisman and Dr. Meyer both concluded that I needed to see an advanced heart specialist. Dr. Weisman referred me to Dr. Phillip Habib, a transplant cardiologist specializing in advanced heart failure.
On February 26, 2015, I visited Dr. Habib at Delray Medical Center. He scheduled me for a six-minute stress test. I was not able to last for more than three minutes. The irony is that I used to take pride in my ability to walk for hours, especially if I was traveling. Dr. Habib noticed that my face was grey and that my lips were purple. He knew that it was just a matter of time before my heart gave out. I had not realized that my condition was so grave. Because of my age I didn’t qualify for a heart transplant. Thus, my options were either LVAD (left ventricular assist device) surgery or Hospice Care. I chose the LVAD surgery.
Dr. Habib immediately admitted me to the hospital and arrangements were made for the surgery awaiting Dr. Brian Bethea's return to the hospital. Dr. Bethea, a cardiac surgeon, implanted a mechanical pump that attaches to my heart, enabling it to pump blood more efficiently. My LVAD surgery performed by Dr. Bethea at Delray Medical Center was the first one ever done in Palm Beach County.
After the surgery, I had a team of 12 doctors and nurses taking care of me. To say the least, I was pampered. The medical attention that I received at Delray Medical Center could not have been better. The staff watched over me like a hawk, especially Dr. Bethea and Dr. Habib. Dr. Bethea visited me frequently after the surgery to see how I was doing. He was always pleasant, soft spoken, and positive. He constantly complimented me on how well I was doing.
Dr. Habib visited me like clockwork every day. He watched over me like a father and was extremely protective of me. I would have no hesitation to recommend him and Dr. Bethea for the LVAD procedure. They make a great team.
Today, I wear a harness with battery packs which weighs about five pounds. A small computer worn around my waist monitors my heart. The batteries pump blood to my heart and the information is sent to the computer and directly to Dr. Habib so he can monitor my vitals. The computer records everything; it also lets me know if the batteries are low. I always carry backup batteries and a spare system controller in a small black bag everywhere I go.
At night when I go to sleep, or if I'm watching TV for an extended period of time, I transfer to a power module plugged into an electrical outlet in the wall. The power module has a 24-foot -cable which allows me to move about in a room. I sleep connected to the power module preventing any danger of batteries exhausting during my sleep.
Recently, I took a cruise around the southernmost portions of South America, from Buenos Aires, around Cape Horn, through the Strait of Magellan, the Chilean fjords, to Valparaiso and ending in Santiago, Chile. The highlight of the trip was an excursion to Torres del Paine National Park. I got to see the majestic mountain peaks that had enticed me ever since I first saw pictures of them. It was a very expensive excursion requiring a flight by small plane. Nevertheless, I was able to get a view of the mountains and in the process cross off another destination from my bucket list.