Herbert “Bernie” Holland is waiting for a new heart. But not idly.
The 58-year-old former U.S. Marine, who has a ventricular assist device (VAD) to support his weakened heart, is pushing the limits as far as his doctors will let him go.
In an average week, Bernie, 6’4” and 240 lbs., works 40 to 50 hours a week as a packer and mover for a Maryland moving company. He routinely lifts and carries furniture, weighing up to 200 lbs., up and down stairs.
Moving people has been Bernie’s career since he left the Marines in 1981. He specializes in moving prominent people—many military and D.C. elected officials—including former Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as U.S. Marine Corps General James L. Jones.
But a decade ago, doctors diagnosed Bernie with cardiomyopathy, a disease that weakens the heart muscle.
In June 2014, he says, “I was pruning my roses and just couldn’t breathe. I thought it was the pollen, but went to the hospital anyway. They sent me to MedStar Washington Hospital Center by ambulance.”
The Advanced Heart Failure team at MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute (MHVI) told Bernie he had end-stage heart failure and needed a VAD to survive. On Aug. 5, 2014, Steven Boyce, MD, a cardiac surgeon at MHVI and a world expert and pioneer in VADs, implanted a VAD in Bernie’s chest.
The pumping device is connected to an external battery worn in a small pack on his waist.
It took time for Bernie to regain strength and retrain his body, but personal determination coupled with his Marine training had him back working a full schedule just four months later.
He is especially grateful to his motherin-law, Margaret Wynn, and Edward Miller, a friend and his attorney, both of whom helped him through his recovery. “Recovery was hard, but you can’t give up or you’re finished,” Bernie says. “I’m grateful I have the VAD. The doctors gave me a gift, and I’m going to take it as far as I can. But I’m not stopping here.”
“There are a few things I can’t do,” he continues. “I want to swim in the ocean again, and I can’t with a VAD. I want to drive my own rig, but can’t with a VAD. I want a new heart.”
Bernie hopes to receive a new heart this year. He looks happily ahead to many years of productive work. He also has a dream—he wants to see his 14-yearold daughter Noel reach her goal of becoming a doctor.