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He's Got Heart

At 6-feet, 1-inch tall and more than 300 pounds, Miles Banks looked every inch the star football player he was at Peekskill High School. Banks also played lacrosse and was on the track team, and he was in the physical prime of his life. So when he caught a cold his senior year of high school, he thought nothing of it. But the cold lingered and then worsened. He grew weak, short of breath and lethargic. He couldn’t work out. He had severe coughing fits.

In January 2011, one of those fits sent him to the Hudson Valley Hospital Center emergency room, where doctors found the last thing you’d expect in such a big, strong young man: His heart was failing. Banks is the fifth of the six children (all boys) of Linda, a case manager at a homeless shelter, and Darryl, a security officer. There is no history of heart trouble in his family, so when he went to the ER he was shocked to learn he had an enlarged heart and was being transferred to Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital at Westchester Medical Center.

He was first seen by Joseph Giamelli, M.D., a pediatric cardiologist, who diagnosed dilated cardiomyopathy, an enlargement and weakening of the heart muscle. “That can be caused by a host of things, but the most common cause is a virus,” Dr. Giamelli says. Banks spent 10 days in the hospital and was put on medication, which helped stabilize him for a while. But his heart didn’t heal. “Only one-third of patients get better on their own,” Dr. Giamelli says. “One-third need medication all their life but stabilize. And one-third die or need a transplant.” Banks, unfortunately, was in the last group. His heart deteriorated, and on April 1, he fainted at school. He re-entered the hospital and was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. His heart was so damaged that Dr. Giamelli put him on another, more potent medication that helped it pump.

“Miles was in heart failure, and once you need those meds, the next step is to get a transplant,” says the doctor. “It took me three to four days to come to grips with it,” Banks says. “But then I focused on football, and my prom and graduation. I started looking forward to all that and put the bad stuff out of my mind. My parents were freaking out, of course.” Dr. Giamelli consulted with Alan Gass, M.D., Medical Director of Heart Failure, Heart Transplantation and Mechanical Circulatory Support at Westchester Medical Center. “Miles was really sick,” Dr. Gass says.

While Banks waited for an organ match, he was kept alive with a rare combination of two advanced technologies: a balloon pump that increased his cardiac output, and an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) system. His condition grew worse, though, and by his 18th birthday, April 28, he was in mortal danger. On May 10 he was scheduled to meet with the Make a Wish Foundation. That same day, he learned a match had been found. “He might not have lasted another 24 to 48 hours,” Dr. Giamelli says.

The transplant was performed by David Spielvogel, M.D., Program Director, Heart Transplantation, and Ramin Malekan, M.D., cardiothoracic surgeon. And it was completely successful. “Miles was the perfect type of candidate,” says Dr. Gass. “He is very motivated and calm and has supportive family and friends. He’s a very mellow guy, takes everything in stride and is always looking forward.” That meant looking ahead to his prom and graduation.

He wasn’t well enough to attend the prom, so the nurses at the Medical Center held one for him in the hospital. “They gave me a dress shirt, my friends came over, they sat me up in a chair, brought some punch and cupcakes, it was really cool,” he says. But he was able to graduate with his class. “I came secretly, and when my father pushed me out in a wheelchair, everything stopped,” he says.

“Everyone yelled my name, and then my big brother Marquise pushed me up the ramp and I got a standing ovation.” He returned to the hospital to finish his rehab and was released on August 4. By December, he was feeling better, and in January he started classes at Westchester Community College. He’s playing basketball and working out again, and his weight has risen from 225 to 290 pounds.

His ordeal has brought some exciting opportunities—he was named an “honorary captain” at an Army football game and went onto the field for the coin toss, and the Make a Wish Foundation is sending him to the 2013 Super Bowl in New Orleans. For now, though, Banks is back at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital, this time by choice. He has taken the fall semester off from his college schedule to volunteer. “I help with washing clothes, talking to children, reading books to them,” he says. “My mom suggested it because I really appreciate what they did for me, and this is a way to give back.”

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