Local man celebrates new life after facing death

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (WXYZ) - A local man is celebrating ten years of new life.

Phil Hall was the first patient in the state of Michigan to undergo the first total, artificial, contemporary heart surgery a decade ago while he waited for a heart donation.

In the spring of 2005, the 42-year-old Hall was active, athletic, and vibrant. Then one day, he was rushed to the hospital for shortness of breath.

“I had chills,” said Phil. “I was really hot. I could not cool off. I just felt burning up.”

Phil learned he had a deadly heart problem: Cardiomyopathy.

Doctors tried several surgeries - including replacing an aortic valve and implanting a pacemaker but nothing worked.

“My heart started enlarging and it got six times the size of a normal heart,” said Phil.  

Doctors then decided to try another procedure to adjust the rhythm of his heart.

“We were talking before the procedure, alone in a room. They were about to take him,” said Phil’s wife Beth. “He said I don’t feel so good and his eyes started to roll back and I just started screaming in the hallway for anybody nearby and it seemed like it took forever and they shocked him, jumped on him, pounded on him. They brought him back eight different times.”

The procedure failed.

“I’m sitting in the waiting room and there is a whole team of doctors walking toward me and sat down and said there is nothing more we can do for your husband,” said Beth. “Something inside of me said no.  No, I’m not going to accept this.”

Beth decided to have her husband air-lifted to U of M Hospital’s Cardiovascular Center where he first met Dr Frances Pagani.

Dr. Pagani brought in a device hooked to a 250 pound machine.

“He stuck it out in front of me,” said Phil. "He goes this seems to be your only option. I just looked at it and I said oh my God.”

It was an artificial heart. In the spring of 2006, it pumped life into him for the next three weeks.

Those weeks passed slowly for Phil, who was not sure what his future would look like, hooked to machines and he could not even talk.

He told 7 Action News he focused on his wife, nephew and nieces. He has raised his nephew and nieces since his sister passed away years ago.

Phil focused on the dream of one day walking them down the aisle on their wedding day.

“They are like daughters to me,” said Phil.

Within the month he got word he was getting a real heart. The couple says Phil was eating dinner when he got the good news.

“I was kind of eating when Dr. Pagani just stuck his head in and he goes guess what, your heart is here and I just kind of dropped everything and said oh my gosh,” said Phil.

That is when Phil says he knew he would make it. It has been 10 years since then.

“I’m amazed.  Truly amazed,” said Dr. Pagani.  “I think he can attest to the success of it, but we were really pleased.”

This week Phil came back to the intensive care unit and the rest of the center. It was a homecoming of sorts for Phil who thanked all the nurses who took care of him. It is also where he spent 7 months of his life.

As he walked through the halls it was also extra special to him, signifying how far he has come. After his last surgery he had to learn to walk again.

Now Hall’s message is simple.

“My message would be don’t give up,” said Phil.  “Keep fighting and believe in your doctors.”

“Thank God every day that you wake up, you open your eyes to another day,” said Beth.

Phil says he will celebrate 10 years of new life with a big dinner with his wife and kids.  He also wants to stress the importance of organ donation. 

On October 30th U of M is hosting Be A Hero at the Big House. It’s an annual donor drive from 8am to 5pm.

Those choosing to participate will get a change can give blood or sign up to give organs, tissue, or bone marrow.

You will also get a club-level, VIP view of Michigan Stadium. The event is free and open to the public. Parking is free as well.

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