Follow CBSDFW.COM: Facebook | Twitter

DALLAS (CBS11) – At 74, Ernest Aviles of Wylie is still full of fire, chuckling as he recalls his doctor’s response when he joked about having a bottle of wine “every now and again.”

But, seven years ago, his failing heart meant that he was out of energy and almost out of time. He couldn’t meet the criteria for a heart transplant, so doctors suggested ‘mechanical intervention’– an LVAD: Left Ventricular Assist Device.

“I went for it,” says Aviles, “the alternative was ‘you’re not gonna make it’. It was that bad.”

Doctors say the LVAD doesn’t replace the heart but, it does help the left ventricle function more effectively: proving life-saving and life changing for patients.

“He couldn’t walk,” says Jed Rosenthal, MD… Aviles’ cardiologist at Medical City Dallas. “He was in a wheelchair and had a bed to chair existence.” According to Dr. Rosenthal, the devices have become smaller and more efficient over the years, demonstrating how it works on a model. “This device is placed inside the heart…blood is sucked out of the heart through this pump and pumped back into the aorta here, taking over some of the work of the heart.”

The LVAD is powered through an external battery pack that patients wear similar to a purse or fanny pack.

Lawrence Swanson, Waxahachie, had one implanted two years ago. Doctors elsewhere had suggested hospice.

“And I said, ‘hospice is a one way trip, right?!’,” recalled the 76-year-old. So, he too, opted for surgery and says he feel great. And most important—he has been given precious, priceless time. And so has Aviles. A seven year survivor, he is one of only about 100 patients in the world to have lived so long on an LVAD. It’s time he’s spent welcoming new grandbabies, annoying his wife, Molly, and just savoring “the miracle of technology,” says Aviles.

Still, doctors stress that prevention trumps treatment. “So know your cardiac risk factors,” advises Dr. Rosenthal, “especially during the holidays when what you think is indigestion may be a heart attack.”

He says those risk factors include: Coronary artery disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, sedentary lifestyle, and smoking.

For Aviles, it’s often hard to believe how much his health has improved. “She (Molly) was leading me around this room here…I would barely take a baby step. I couldn’t stand. I was that weak.” And now, “it’s awesome. Instead of pushing up daisies, I’m pushing baby buggies!”

(©2015 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)