Valentine’s Day for the Bowles family ended with movies and ice cream, not too far from how average everyday couples spent the holiday.
However, the Bowles family are anything but an average everyday couple. Matthew Bowles, a junior teaching major from Morrilton, suffers from dilated cardiomyopathy, which is a fancy way of saying his heart is enlarged and cannot pump efficiently.
Bowles first noticed something was wrong when he got the flu in high school at the age of 17. Then, as he was preparing for the state all-star game, he discovered that he was unable to pass the physical.
After seeing multiple doctors and physicians, it was determined that the flu had stretched Bowles heart out two and a half times that of a normal heart.
Despite having his world flipped upside down, Bowles has done his hardest to not let it affect his life too much.
“I try to do everything I can. It only limits you as much as you let it,” Bowles said.
Bowles is continuing his life just as he would without the condition, and on December 22, 2014, he married his best friend since pre-school.
Bowles wife, Emilee, a senior communications major from Morrilton, has never given up on him.
“It wasn’t an option for me. When he was in the hospital, I slept on the floor every single night. I just love him,” she said, struggling with her words.
“She keeps me going, keeps me pushing. I gotta do it for her. I gotta build us a future,” Mr. Bowles said about his wife.
The Bowles family does not currently have any children, they do however, have an LVAD.
A left ventricular assist device, or LVAD, is an electronic device that has a tube running to the heart and controls the pumping. If the device stops working, the heart stops working.
The device cannot get wet, or it will short circuit.
The batteries die after about twelve hours, turning every day into a management of power.
When the Bowles family travels, they have to plan ahead and map out which hospitals have LVAD support, just in case.
Every night, Mrs. Bowles has to sterilize, equip a mask, and address the tubing on her husband’s stomach.
And just like a hyper child, the public always notices the device.
In fact, one of Mr. Bowles first times out of the house after receiving the device, a woman in Wal-Mart thought he was carrying a bomb.
The reaction of the public is something that continues to frustrate his wife, but Mr. Bowles laughed it off, saying, “I think they just stare because I look good.”
Treating and caring for the LVAD is a full-time job for the Bowles family.
One of their biggest accidents and scares came last April, during the visitation for Mrs. Bowles grandfather. Mr. Bowles pump began to fail in the middle of the visitation and they had to immediately run to Little Rock and get it replaced.
Mrs. Bowles says she will never forget the scene. The nurse gave her a stethoscope to listen to her husband’s heartbeat as she switched out the pumps. When the original pump was removed, Mr. Bowles heart stopped.
Mrs. Bowles watched her husband die for a split second.
“I’ll never forget the look on his face when they put in the new tube,” she said.
Despite all the hindrances and nuances of the condition and LVAD, the Bowles family insists that they aren’t letting it take away from their relationship at all.
“It’s actually helped us mature as a couple,” Mr. Bowles said. He continued, “We have had to do a lot of things most couples don’t have to do until they’re 50. She makes my decisions when I can’t.”
The Bowles have had to and continue to rely on a lot. Doctors, weather, the LVAD and each other, but the one they have relied on the most? God.
“God has been so present in this situation. To know what could have happened, we have been so blessed,” Mrs. Bowles said.
The Bowles are excited for what is next. “We’ll graduate, find jobs, get a house, travel, then have kids, he probably wants to have kids then travel. We’ll see,” Mrs. Bowles said.
Mr. Bowles added, “It’d be nice to have a transplant thrown in somewhere.”
Transplanting and donating have become very passionate topics for the Bowles family. “Death is horrible, but something good can come out of it,” Mrs. Bowles said. “One single person can save up to eight lives.”
The Bowles never said “if” Mr. Bowles gets a transplant, but said “when” he gets a transplant.
A transplant would mean Mr. Bowles could get rid of his LVAD and go back to living a normal life. The one thing he is looking forward to the most after a transplant?
“A long, hot shower,” Mr. Bowles said.