Local hockey player is all heart, thanks to organ transplant and pump

Posted at 8:42 AM, Aug 30, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-30 08:43:55-04

SPRING LAKE, Mich. -- Tyler Jaenicke has fire in his heart and ice in his veins.

He's a hockey player who was forced to give up the sport because of a heart condition. Now he's finding strength and perspective off the ice.

Jaenicke's heart was set on playing college hockey after graduating from high school five years ago. But during his high school's hockey playoff game, his vision changed.

Then he was faced with the greatest battle of his life.

"I felt really sick and out of breath," said Jaenicke, now 23. "When the cardiologist told me my heart was really weak, I kind of laughed at him. I didn’t believe him."

But Jaenicke's condition was no laughing matter. At just 17 years old, Jaenicke was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a potentially deadly disease of the heart.

"Eventually he got to the point where he was slowing down, getting more symptomatic, and not performing like a normal kid should," said Spectrum Health transplant cardiologist Dr. Ryan Grayburn.

Five years after the diagnosis, medications kept Jaenicke's heart pumping as he continued to play hockey until this past spring. That's when things changed.

"My condition got worse really quickly," Jaenicke said.

Jaenicke's heart was failing, and his medicine struggled to keep up. Dr. Grayburn tells FOX 17 the only option was to attach a battery-operated pump, or LVAD, to Jaenicke's heart. The competitor with a heart of gold was at the mercy of a titanium device.

"When you listened to my heart it was more of like an engine buzzing noise," Jaenicke said.

After two short months, trouble struck again.

"He had issues with his heart rhythm to the point where he was getting shocked from his defibrillator device," Dr. Grayburn said. Jaenicke needed a transplant as soon as possible.

On June 21 of this year, Jaenicke was given a new lease on life, thanks to an organ donor.

Today, Jaenicke has a new heart to show others that winners don't give up.

"Those are the kind of people you hope to help with a heart pump and get them to a point where they can be active," Dr. Grayburn said.

Jaenicke says that while he hasn't been on the ice since last February, his goal is to be back on the ice by the start of next year.

"I knew ... I’d get there someday; I had no doubts," Jaenicke said.

Jaenicke hopes his story will inspire others to become organ donors so they can save someone's life just as someone saved his.