Brody Lambert was a new dad, a young husband and suddenly a very sick man when, at age 24, he learned that what he thought was pneumonia was in reality congestive heart failure.

His heart wasn’t pumping nearly well enough to deliver the blood he needed to the rest of his body, so fluid and blood collected in his lungs and legs. He couldn’t sleep at night; if he laid down, he couldn’t seem to breathe. And the young husband, who’d always had an extra dose of get-up-and-go, was exhausted and weak.

He looked at baby Brinlee, then nearly 6 months old, and wondered if he’d ever be the father he’d planned. He’d always been athletic, an avid outdoorsman who liked to hike and hunt and camp. He’d planned to share those activities with his daughter and the other children he hoped to have. Were those dreams gone?

He wanted more kids, more opportunities to experience life, more time.

Still, Lambert remembers being determined not to whine or feel sorry for himself. He didn’t know what the future would hold — if he could ever again be the active dad he’d always dreamed or how he’d manage to support what he hoped would be a growing family or what his medical journey would be. Even in the earliest days after his diagnosis, he’d been warned he’d probably need a heart transplant at some point. There was plenty to worry about, not to mention the fact that he really felt lousy. But he determined he’d take it as it came with the support of his wife, Erin, and his family and friends.

This week, looking back on those years, he says he was like a lobster in a pot of water that gradually begins to boil. He’d been so sick, but a lot of the decline was somewhat gradual. He hadn’t even realized he was boiling.

Little miracles

First, his doctors at Intermountain Health slowed the deterioration of his heart with medication, strengthening the crucial muscle’s ability to pump. Different drugs pulled fluids off so he could breathe a bit easier. And his coworkers released some pressure, too.

When he found himself in the hospital’s intensive care unit, he’d only been employed full time for the city of Spanish Fork for a few weeks, though he’d been there part time long enough for his co-workers to care about him. He had insurance, but not much paid time off. Some of them donated hours of their own sick leave and PTO so he could get a paycheck while he was off work for a couple of months.

This week, sitting in the living room of his spacious, comfortable home on a parcel of land Erin describes as a “mini farm,” he pauses in the story to ponder the changes that have come: He has four kids now: Porter, 10; Ashlee, 13; Haylee, 17; and Brinlee, now 19. He recently quit working as a building inspector for Spanish Fork to start his own company, Elevation Construction. He’s a general contractor.

Behind him, out the picture window, there’s a rural vista, a mountain in the distance. Not far from the front door, they’ve got horses and both full-size and miniature cows and sheep and pigs, among other critters. Their trio of corgis are wandering somewhere; the Australian shepherd is on the porch, lazily watching the occasional car go by on a wildly hot midweek June afternoon.

Sunday, this dad who could not have predicted how blessed he would feel with each new day will celebrate another Father’s Day with his family.

He is the father he wanted to be, happy to go camping or hunting or four-wheeling with Erin and the kids, who also like to show off their animals at livestock shows. When he’s on a tractor, there’s a really good chance that Porter will be with him. The boy loves hanging out and working with his dad.

Lambert, 43, adds that life is “not perfect every day.” But it’s really good. And unexpected.

Brody Lambert walks with his wife, Erin, behind him, and their three daughters, Ashlee, Haylee and Brinlee, at their home in Benjamin on Thursday, June 13, 2024. | Marielle Scott, Deseret News

A challenging road

In a journey that would span nearly two decades and have some of the dips and rises you’d find on a rollercoaster, Brody and Erin Lambert did their best to hold on.

Early on, Lambert knew he wanted to be a “run up and down the soccer field” dad, but it seemed an unlikely goal. In his middle 20s, he was going downhill fast. He decided he’d try to adapt.

Around 2014, he was listed for a heart transplant, but his heart had failed to the point that he needed a left ventricular assist device to even get him there. For 18 months, he plugged in his heart, making sure he always had an extra battery on hand for the device, which he wore like a fanny pack. The Lamberts had a generator in case of a power failure, which could turn deadly if he couldn’t keep the batteries charged. But Abbott’s Heartmate II LVAD was a bit of a miracle, doing the work of his heart’s left ventricle while allowing him freedom to work and play with his wife and kids and to simply live. Though he wasn’t allowed to go very far from home, the difference between how sick he’d been and how much better he felt almost the second he got the LVAD was striking, he said.

As often happens when one is sick enough to need an organ transplant, it took a lot of maintenance to keep him going: medications and doctor appointments and test after test. He developed atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat, so small sections of his heart tissue were destroyed in a procedure called an ablation to adjust the electrical signals and stabilize the rhythm.

He’d been on the waiting list for a heart transplant for 18 months when he got the call to come to Intermountain Medical Center. He was about to receive a donor heart.

Because he’d kept working throughout the ordeal, he was more physically strong than many transplant patients are and he did extraordinarily well. He was hospitalized for just a week after the transplant. He went back to work almost immediately.

Brody Lambert and his kids, Ashlee, Haylee, Porter and Brinlee, spend time outside together at their home in Benjamin on Thursday, June 13, 2024. | Marielle Scott, Deseret News

But complications can arise with a heart transplant, said Dr. Brian Whisenant, an interventional cardiologist at Intermountain Health and one of Lambert’s doctors. Because the transplanted organ is not native to the body, immune-suppressing drugs are given to avoid organ rejection. Then the heart is monitored and samples taken to make sure that all is well. While rejection can be devastating, the symptoms are often not noticeable at first; the biopsy provides a heads-up if trouble is brewing.

Heart transplant patients need frequent right ventricular biopsies to check for rejection. The process involves passing special forceps from the heart’s right atrium across the tricuspid valve to take a little bite of the right ventricle for analysis. Such biopsies “can be complicated by damage to the tricuspid valve,” Whisenant said. And that’s what happened to Lambert.

So once again — for an entirely different reason — his heart wasn’t pumping as well as it should and he felt exhausted and short of breath, his legs swollen. He had no tolerance for exertion, either, the doctor told Deseret News. Untreated, the condition worsens and a person can die.

The valve can be repaired or replaced. But Brody Lambert had undergone so much surgery that he wasn’t a good candidate for more; the risk of yet other complications was too great. He’d had two big open-heart surgeries. He had scar tissue. And based on his symptoms, a surgical repair could be trouble.

Whisenant talked to him about enrolling in a clinical trial of another Abbott heart helper, a device called the TriClip G4. Abbott believed that could help a lot of heart patients, but perhaps especially those like Lambert who couldn’t withstand another big operation.

The TriClip Transcatheter Edge-to-Edge Repair procedure is a low-risk, minimally invasive treatment option for patients in need of tricuspid valve repair, but for whom surgery is just too risky. Lots of things can cause tricuspid regurgitation, Whisenant said, noting the transcatheter tricuspid valve repair is a “safe and novel therapy that is addressing an unmet need of improved quality of life in patients without other options.”

Patients like Lambert.

The device, which has since been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is delivered through a vein in the leg. It works by “clipping together a portion of the flaps of tissue — to repair the tricuspid valve and help blood flow in the right direction without the need for open heart surgery,” said Dr. Nadim Geloo, senior director of medical affairs for Abbott’s Structural Heart Division.

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Even better, it’s a short procedure that doesn’t require a lot of inpatient recovery. The surgery takes just one to three hours and most patients go home after staying overnight.

Lambert was released the next day.

And his heart? If you didn’t count the medications he takes to avoid rejection or the follow-up visits to make sure that all is well, you’d never know he’d been sick.

Now he’s just a hard-working man surrounded by a family he adores. And that’s really all he ever wanted.

Brody Lambert poses for a portrait at his home in Benjamim on Thursday, June 13, 2024. | Marielle Scott, Deseret News
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