David Ten Brink most enjoys two activities—spending time with his family and fixing things.
Thanks to a specialized treatment for his valvular heart disease, he has the opportunity to enjoy both more than he used to, and combining the two pastimes makes the enjoyment even greater.
“My son Stuart’s neighbor gave him an old John Deere lawnmower,” he said recently, recounting how he picked up a used motor for the mower, took the transmission apart, and fixed the valve, bearings and belt.
“We got it going last night—my grandson drove it up and down the driveway,” he said. “We are going today to get a new muffler, though. It is too loud.”
Ten Brink, 64, said the knack for repair came to him naturally—and out of necessity.
“We were fairly poor, and if things broke, you had to fix them,” he said. “I grew up watching my dad, picking up the right tools, and got to have some decent problem-solving skills. I’m passing that on to the grandkids.”
Ten Brink’s talent carried over into his career choice. He spent more than 30 years as a psychiatric nurse, caring for the broken minds and spirits of the Alzheimer and dementia patients of the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, from which he retired two years ago.
“I really enjoyed working with those guys—helping and loving them, and easing their pain, discomfort and anguish,” he recalled.
His own health issues helped him empathize with the patients under his care, and to understand just how fragile and precious life is. For a fixer who enjoys solving other peoples’ problems, he has spent an inordinate amount of time getting himself fixed.
‘You’re going to die young’
As an infant, Ten Brink suffered from rheumatic fever, which damaged one of his heart valves—a fact he did not discover until taking a U.S Army physical 18 years later.
“You’re going to die young if you don’t get this fixed,” Ten Brink said he was advised by the Army doctors.
At 39, he had a heart valve replacement. According to Loie (short for Lois), his wife of 44 years, the surgeon who performed this surgery said he had never seen such an enlarged heart.
“He needed two hands to deal with it,” she recalled.
Ten Brink’s quality of life vastly improved, but the respite would not last. At 57, doctors diagnosed Ten Brink with an aneurysm at the top of the aorta, which needed repair, and he soon sported a new valve.
Two years later he began suffering from atrial fibrillation, a heart rhythm disorder that causes irregular, rapid, chaotic beating of the upper chambers of the heart. Ten Brink underwent a catheter ablation, in which a thin wire is inserted through blood vessels to destroy small areas of heart tissue firing off abnormal electrical impulses and causing the disorder. During the ablation, his heart stopped and had to be shocked with paddles to start beating again. Soon thereafter he was fitted with a pacemaker and defibrillator to regulate his heartbeat.
Then, last December, with his circulation again compromised and following spells of dizziness, fatigue, profuse sweating and nausea, Ten Brink was told he needed a new heart valve.
“The doctor didn’t think I’d survive another surgery,” Ten Brink said. “And I didn’t want to have my chest cracked again.”
‘He’s a miracle guy’
At the time of Ten Brink’s health crisis, the only way for him to receive a percutaneous aortic valve replacement was through the CoreValve-Expanded Use Valve in Valve research trial at Spectrum Health’s Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR) Clinic.
Spectrum Health is one of the few sites in Michigan that participated in the trial.
David and Loie Ten Brink spent New Year’s Eve in the radiology department getting a CT scan done to ensure that David would be a good candidate for the procedure.
Spectrum Health’s TAVR Clinic offers options for aortic valve replacement to patients previously thought too high-risk to undergo the traditional procedure. Surgeons and interventional cardiologists work together to perform a procedure during which the diseased aortic valve is replaced with an artificial valve.
In most cases, the procedure channels a thin tube with a prosthetic valve through an artery in the groin or shoulder to reach the heart without open-heart surgery or surgical removal of the native valve.
“Almost immediately after the procedure, patients begin to feel better, thanks to improved blood flow,” said William Merhi, DO, who, along with cardiothoracic surgeon John Heiser, MD, performed Ten Brink’s procedure on Feb. 9, 2015. The FDA approved the valve in valve procedure for commercial use on March 31.
“The quality of life for me is a day and night difference,” Ten Brink said. “It’s like a new valve again.”
“In December, they gave him six months,” added Loie Ten Brink. “He’s a miracle guy.”
Back to fixing things
Today, life is good for David and Loie Ten Brink, who live in Grandville, Michigan, and have a son, a daughter and four grandchildren.
“They are the world to both of us,” Ten Brink said. “We get to babysit. It’s like our own kids.”
Ten Brink continues to repair whatever needs fixing around the house.
“I fix stuff for the wife, and I enjoy it,” he said. “I just back the pickup up to the garage and that’s the work platform. If I need anything, I can just putt over to Lowes, about a mile from my house.”
But he remembers how it was only a short time ago that the exertion of repairing household items would have been out of the question.
This spring, Ten Brink and his son, Stuart, completed a project they had been discussing for a long time and that took two summers to complete together in Ten Brink’s pole barn—the restoration of a Jeep DJ-5, one of the old mail-delivery Jeeps with the steering wheel on the right side of the vehicle.
“We decided it would be nice to restore something,” Ten Brink said. “Without the latest procedure, however, I would probably have had to sit there and talk to Stuart while he did it.”