Benefit to help man’s journey to new heart

Photos by Traci Westcott/The Herald
Tom Carie, left, prays before dinner with his wife, Deb, and daughter, Hailey, 14, at their home in Haysville on Tuesday. Deb prayed for the ongoing health of her family and expressed thanks for their time together. "When I put my head on his chest at night, I don't hear his heart beat," Deb said. "I hear the pump. That took a while to get used to." 


Tom Carie just wants to play ball with his daughter again.

He survived a heart attack in 2011, but last fall, the 58-year-old Haysville man’s heart drastically weakened. Doctors told him he needed a left ventricular assist device to pump his heart. On the day of the surgery in November, they gave him a dire prognosis.

He would die without the device.

“My heart and overall health was going downhill fast,” Tom wrote in a note he gave to The Herald. “It was time for drastic measures.”

He thought of his daughter, Hailey, a freshman member of the girls basketball and softball teams at Northeast Dubois High School. Tom hadn’t missed a single game of hers before his heart troubles returned last fall. He was one of the few parents in the stands at practices.

He’d always been a homebody. But when he did get out, it was often for her.

And so he had the LVAD procedure, knowing the road ahead would be difficult and uncertain. He also did it knowing it was a step to getting back in the bleachers.

Now hopeful he receives a heart transplant as soon as possible, Tom’s family is hosting a benefit to help offset the cost of his ever-growing medical expenses. The event will be held from 4 to 11 p.m. Saturday at Jasper Outdoor Recreation and will include live music and food, as well as a cash bar, silent auction and half-pot raffle. The cost of entry is a $5 donation to the family at the door.

Tom is still recovering from the LVAD surgery, which facilitated the installation of a pump inside his heart that pushes his blood through his body. Once his current heart recuperates and strengthens — hopefully in the coming weeks — he will be placed on the transplant list.

The LVAD is his bridge to a new heart, family members said on Saturday morning. But there’s no such thing as being next in line for a heart transplant.

Tom’s match must meet a strict list of requirements, including being male, the same height or taller as him and having the same blood type.

“That could be a day, that could be years,” Jana Gunselman, Tom’s sister, said of how long he could wait for the transplanted organ.

Added his wife, Deb Carie: “You have to have your bags packed, ready to go when they call.”

The heart attack Tom suffered about eight years ago “was a big one,” Deb said, adding that “he healed up pretty well” following a double bypass procedure. But his heart never recovered from the damage.

Deb described the LVAD as life-changing, and said her husband has adjusted better than she thought he would to the device. Thinking back on the day Tom’s heart was opened and the device was placed inside, Deb said it didn’t feel real.

Tom Carie, center, pulls up his sleeve for his wife, Deb, to check his vitals as their daughter, Hailey, 14, finishes her homework at their home in Haysville on Tuesday. Tom's left ventricular assist device (LVAD) completes cardiac circulation and therefore Tom doesn't have an actual pulse. A doppler device is used to measure his blood pressure which is then tracked by Deb and sent to his doctors to consistently monitor his health and adjust his medications.

His recovery from that surgery was unexpectedly fast. He was home in 12 days — weeks before medical professionals predicted he’d be out of the hospital.

But life has changed immensely for the family since Tom returned. He has some bad days, but most of them are good.

Before the family leaves the house, they need to ensure they have Tom’s bag of essentials, which includes extra batteries and a controller for his LVAD. He isn’t homebound, but his body is easily bothered by cold and heat.

His diet has been affected, as Tom — who is also diabetic — now has to closely monitor his sodium intake. Deb keeps a close eye on his weight and vitals, and she tries to pick up all the extra hours she can at her job at Kimball Electronics while also traveling to medical appointments with her husband.

Tom has been busy walking on a treadmill to regain his strength. He’s now up to a quarter mile a day. And after everything he’s been through, Deb said he has not complained once.

“He doesn’t get down and feel sorry for himself,” Deb said. “He was such a hard worker and always worked to support his family. He was always very good about that kind of stuff. He never let us do without or anything like that. So, I think that’s probably one of the hardest things for him.”

Tom still wants to go back to work. He’s hopeful he can get a job after he receives his transplant, and he’s also looking forward to getting back in the bleachers at Hailey’s games this spring. His absences have been hard on both of them, but even when he was in the hospital, the two would video call each other to talk about what happened.

Deb said all the financial support the family receives will help. Tom is also eager to be surrounded by the emotional support of friends, family and other attendees at the benefit.

But when the music stops and the guests leave, Tom’s murky path forward will continue.

“And bottom line, even after the event, it’s not over,” Gunselman said. “It’s still not over. And that’s what’s kinda scary. It’s not over for Tom because he’s got another step. It’s not over financially. It’s not over for a long time. And there’ll always be things that you have to do even after the transplant, medicines and things. It’s ongoing.”

In his note to The Herald, Tom thanked everyone, from the main surgeon to the housekeeping staff on the LVAD and heart transplant team at KentuckyOne Health Jewish Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky.

“I would like to thank everyone at the Jewish Hospital, my family and friends for all their support,” he wrote. “Especially my wife and daughter! Without them, I am sure I would not be here today!”

A GoFundMe page for the family has been set up online.

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