Victor John Batts, heart surgery survivor

Baltimore Sun

Victor John Batts, a retired steelworker who successfully survived a heart pump implantation and later became a much-in-demand spokesman for the device and procedure, died Saturday of heart failure at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

The longtime Randallstown resident was 57.

Mr. Batts was diagnosed in 1998 with congestive heart failure, and eventually the medications he had been taking for the condition and a defibrillator failed to relieve the condition.

By 2004, when he was first admitted to a local hospital, his heart was operating at less than 10 percent

"I was feeling terrible. I couldn't breathe. I weighed about 280 pounds, but 60 to 70 pounds of that weight was fluid because my kidneys weren't working. I had lost hope," Mr. Batts recalled in a 2004 interview published in a University of Maryland Medical Center newsletter.

"It hindered everything that I had to do. My life had changed dramatically because I wasn't able to do the things physically that a normal person was able to do," he said.

Dr. Erika D. Feller, medical director of heart transplantation at the University of Maryland Medical Center and a professor of surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, was one of Mr. Batts' physicians.

"Victor was in severe heart failure and suffering from organ failure when we first met him," Dr. Feller said yesterday. "He was the sickest of the sick."

At the time, the University of Maryland Medical Center was conducting a heart pump study comparing the Novacor Left Ventricular Assist System - known as LVAS - with the HeartMate pump.

Doctors informed Mr. Batts about the study, but because of severe damage to both his kidneys and liver, time was of the essence if he wished to participate in the study and receive a heart pump.

"The doctors told him if he didn't do it, he would die," said his wife of 24 years, the former Valerie Goff.

"Victor agreed to it because it was his only option. He was so sick that he did not qualify for a regular heart transplant," Dr. Feller said.

"He had one of the best outcomes using those devices that I've ever seen. His heart failure was resolved. He began to travel and do things again," she said.

"I feel 60 to 80 percent better than when I first came in here. I've seen a lot of changes. I'm not out of breath, I'm not panting, I'm not walking and stopping. All of those things were factors I had to deal with on a daily basis," Mr. Batts said in the UMMC interview.

"I've been able to walk distances that I haven't walked in three years. I look at that, and I see an astronomical change," he said.

"He made medical history and national news by becoming the first person to have a Novacor heart pump implanted," Mrs. Batts said.

With the successful implant of the heart pump and a resumption of a normal life, Mr. Batts discovered that he now had a new role to fulfill.

"He became our spokesperson for the mechanical heart device. When I would call and say, 'Victor, I've got a guy who is thinking about the device but is scared of the surgery,' he'd be at the hospital in 15 minutes," Dr. Feller said.

"He'd talk to the patient and his family. He'd tell them 'I did it, and you can do it, too.' I can tell you that 100 percent of the patients who had spoken to Victor were happy that they had done it," she said. "He was such an inspiration. He was just amazing."

Dr. Feller said that Mr. Batts had done better than expected and had a good 5¿ years of life after the pump was implanted.

"He really had no limitations," she said. "Victor had a heart of gold, even though it was really titanium."

Dr. Feller added: "It's the Victor Battses of the world who help us with the knowledge of how to improve new generations of heart pumps for patients."

Dr. Bartley P. Griffith, chief of cardiac surgery and director of heart and lung transplantation at the University of Maryland Medical Center and professor of surgery at the medical school, was another who assisted in Mr. Batts' case.

"Victor was a fabulous guy who had a bigger-than-life personality that could fill a room and then some," Dr. Griffith said Wednesday.

"The important thing is that Victor had survived heart failure and had a good quality of life. He entered the trial without a known outcome because he really wanted to," he said.

"And because he had done so well, he became our heart pump ambassador. He was always front and center in discussing the pros and cons of the surgery, and it takes people like Victor to move the field forward," Dr. Griffith said.

He said that Mr. Batts' successful surgery and postoperative life earned him an Internet audience as others contemplated such surgery and sought his advice.

"He touched his doctors here," Dr. Griffith said. "Everyone here is very sorry that he's gone. He will be strongly missed."

Mr. Batts, the son of a longshoreman and a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised in the city's Gwynns Falls Parkway neighborhood.

After graduating from Forest Park High School in 1970, Mr. Batts served in the Army as a military policeman until being discharged in 1974.

For almost 30 years, until retiring in 2003, Mr. Batts worked as a heavy-equipment operator on the coke oven and tin mill at Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Sparrows Point plant.

A videographer, Mr. Batts established V&S; Productions, a videography firm that he operated with a daughter from 1993 to 2003, when he closed the business.

Mr. Batts enjoyed working in his yard and fishing.

"The heart pump gave him a second chance to do a lot of things, and he did them," Mrs. Batts said.

Funeral services will be held at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at Vaughn Greene Funeral Home, 8728 Liberty Road.

Also surviving are four daughters, Takisha Barnes of Pikesville, and Shanethia Batts, Simone Batts and Courtney Batts, all of Randallstown; two brothers, Samuel C. Batts and Handsome Batts, both of Baltimore; a sister, Linda Lynn Batts of Baltimore; and two grandsons.

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