Patient Story

Hall of Fame Cowboy from Kansas Rides into his 80s with LVAD

"Right away it was a no brainer for me. They are good people and I had confidence in what they told me."
- Duane Walker

Duane is an 84-year-old respected horse breeder and family man from the small western town of Canton, Kansas.

Over 50 years ago, the internationally known Tee Jay Quarter Horses was established at the home of Duane and Jo Walker to breed, train, and show American Quarter Horses. Duane and his most loved and remembered horse, a gray stallion named Jackie Bee, were inducted into the American (2008) and Kansas (2000) Quarter Horse Hall of Fame. Jackie Bee was the start of a legacy of outstanding horses in appearance, temperament, and agility.

When Duane was 62, he survived a sudden heart attack that left him with congestive heart failure; his heart lost its ability to provide adequate circulation to his body. In August of 2010, Duane traveled to Saint Luke's Mid America Heart Institute.

"When there was nothing else that my previous caregiver could do for me, he recommended that I come to Saint Luke's because of their good reputation and expertise," said Duane. After a thorough examination, Duane proved to be a good candidate for the Left Ventricle Assist Device (LVAD), which is a small mechanical pump that is implanted in the chest cavity to take over the work of pumping blood to the body. It is generally used for patients who are at the end stages of heart failure. An LVAD can be used temporarily or permanently (destination therapy). Ultimately, the decision to go through with this lifetime commitment was up to Duane.

“Right away it was a no brainer for me,” Duane said happily. “The physicians said it would give me an extended period of life and my family supported me. I was in good shape for my age. They are good people and I had confidence in what they told me. My care was excellent, and they did everything they could to help me understand the device.” With a positive attitude, he accepted the procedure.

“Duane was discharged in about two weeks, which is fairly quick,” said Dr. Mark Everley, a cardiologist and the medical director for the Saint Luke’s VAD program. “Most people live about 6 months with severe heart failure, and here is Duane, almost 10 years later enjoying life with his family.”

The LVAD has improved the quality of Duane’s life and has lengthened his life expectancy. Duane was able to go back to enjoying everything he loves with the people he loves most. One of Duane’s grandchildren, Trevin Prieb, invented a winch and pulley system to saddle up his horse independently. In no time he was back on his ranch, working the cattle and riding pens.

“I feel free when I ride. Whether I am working or going with the kids, I don’t have a worry in the world. I forget all my problems,” says Duane. “I can’t tell that I have an addition, but I am always cautious. The LVAD is a life-changer. I didn’t think I was ever going to get on a horse again.”

Duane and his wife, Jo, have been together for 66 years, and are happy they still have each other. They have four children, five grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren, all who share a mutual love for horses and live within a mile from the ranch. They love to attend their great grandchildren’s football games, church programs, and rodeos. Recently, the couple went to Las Vegas for the National Finals Rodeo.

“Every time he shakes my hand, I think ‘man that is the strongest handshake of anyone I have ever met’,” says Dr. Everley. “No matter what Duane is going through health wise, I give him credit that his good attitude never changes. He is the same cowboy he was when we first met him in 2010.”

Duane feels blessed for his long life. He says that, “over the years I have learned that wealth is just stuff, and what really matters are my faith, family, and friends.” Now, he is watching his great-grandchildren become cowboys and girls of their own.

Interested in learning more about heart failure solutions? Visit Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute.