After going into heart failure at age 23, Michael Cruz had a choice to make:
Get a ventricular assist device, otherwise known as a VAD, or risk further damage to his heart and, as a result, risk his life.
The choice wasn’t easy. He had to bravely prepare himself for some major life adjustments.
Having a VAD chest implant means no swimming, taking extra precautions while showering and being hooked up to “recharge” each night, among other things. But one thing Cruz knew is that he wanted to figure out a way to continue his passion for weightlifting.
His UF Health physician was Mustafa Ahmed, M.D., a UF College of Medicine cardiovascular medicine specialist and medical director of the UF Health Mechanical Circulatory Support Program. Ahmed partnered with Cruz’s weightlifting coach to devise a plan to get Cruz back to the passion that makes him feel valiant.
“Michael is just amazing,” Ahmed said. “His journey highlights how transformative VAD therapy can be and how blessed we are to pair this technology with people like Michael.”
And now, armed with knowledge (and muscle!), the young patient is helping other VAD patients adjust to their “new normal.”
In addition to their “day” jobs, Cruz, his wife and mother have all found ways to give back to other patients going through similar situations. They are now regular visitors at the UF Health Heart & Vascular Hospital, giving advice and lending an ear to heart patients, even over the holidays. The family also started a charity and Cruz has a YouTube channel with videos designed to help others understand the difficulties and solutions faced by patients with VADs.
“His YouTube channel is so inspirational to other advanced heart failure patients. Seeing him thrive and excel on his journey, seeing him author his own heart failure story, it has been a major help to so many,” Ahmed said.
Professionally, Cruz has also earned his real estate license and works full-time as an engineer.
His dedication to live his life courageously has helped Cruz overcome each hurdle he encountered. He is grateful for the physicians, clinicians, staff and family who helped make that happen.
Cruz said, “The doctors and nurses at UF Health were amazing when it came to keeping me informed and at ease. They wouldn’t let me give up during the recovery process. I am forever grateful for them and their hard work.”