Local man credits heart pump for saving his life


W.K. Juncker spent 35 years helping local kids as a leader of the Children’s Therapy Center of the Quad Cities. His passion for serving others didn’t stop at retirement.  In fact, his own health issues have inspired him to be an advocate for heart failure patients. In 2017, Juncker said he could barely function. 

“The kidneys were failing, the liver was failing. We still had some lung issues,” Juncker said. It would have been a laborious task to enjoy a morning outside with his wife Nancy and dog Gonzo. Juncker’s heart was failing. 

“When your heart isn’t working, nothing is working right,” Juncker said. His health issues started back in 1996 when he had his first heart attack. 

“There was damage to the left side of the heart,” Juncker said. In 2008, he received a pacemaker. 

“But I still got along fine. I got along fine for 21 years,” Juncker said. That was until April of last 2017. 

“I had another heart attack,” Juncker said. This time, he didn’t get along fine. 

“I’d come home a week, fill up with fluid, and back to the hospital. I’m on a first name basis with the ambulance company,” Juncker said. “There were points I thought maybe just throw the towel in.” 

The pain a consequence of unhealthy habits 

“I didn’t exercise a whole lot,” Juncker said. “I traveled three days a week. I thought the healthiest thing I could eat would be Kentucky Fried Chicken,” Juncker said. “I also smoked for 51 years.”

Because of that health history, and a bout with cancer in 2013, Juncker wasn’t a candidate for a heart transplant. 

“They don’t want to put a heart in somebody who is going to go home, get fat and die. They’re a very precious commodity,” Juncker said. So, doctors recommended a heart pump. The Abbott HeartMate 3 is still in trial phase, but Juncker didn’t hesitate. Rather than replacing the heart the portable machine works with it. 

“It attaches to the left ventricle, that’s where all the damage was. It’s actually doing about 80% of the pumping right now,” Juncker said. Without this device, Juncker said he would be dead. He’s now a patient ambassador, educating about this life-saving technology. 

“The heart is over here. The drive-line comes across your belly and comes out over here,” Juncker said. “It has a mini computer that’s pre-set at the RPM and flow.” Juncker is being re-evaluated to be a heart transplant candidate. 

“It’s severity, how much you really need one. The only risk factor I have right now is if the right side of the heart would give up. Then, we’d have a serious issue,” Juncker said. Though the future is uncertain, he’s praising his cardiologists for keeping his heart ticking long enough to enjoy today. 

“We’ve got some of the best. Right here, locally,” Juncker said. “We’re fortunate.”

In late April Junkcer was re-assessed to be a heart transplant candidate. Because two of three pulmonary numbers aren’t where doctors want them, Juncker will be going through two months of pulmonary rehab at genesis before being evaluated again. 

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