Tyler Wertz, 18, and his 16-year old brother Austin Tucker, fight, tease, love and support each other like most brothers do. Unlike most brothers, however, they share the same uncertain future—both have heart assist devices keeping them alive while they struggle with a debilitating disease.
As young boys, Tyler and Austin were diagnosed with Becker's Muscular Dystrophy, a disease that slowly weakens the arms and legs and damages the heart.
"Sometimes I'll be walking and I'll fall down for no reason," Tyler said. "It can be scary and embarrassing, but it's just something I have to deal with."
In 2010, Tyler's heart condition became so grave that doctors at the Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center implanted a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), a battery-run device that assists the pumping of the heart, in an attempt to improve his quality of life. Austin received one in 2012.
While most teenagers carry a backpack with books and other items, Tyler and Austin carry a small computer-controlled device powered by two batteries that always have to be charged.
"Sometimes I'll be in public and people will stare and ask me about it," Tyler said. "It's overwhelming at times, but I know that it gave me a second chance at life and for that I am grateful."
"Tyler and Austin are the first people in the world with this condition who have received this type of treatment to stop the progression of heart disease and improve the quality of their lives," said Dr. Jerry Estep, a cardiologist with the Methodist DeBakey Heart & Vascular Center. "We are using this as a "bridge to transplant" in the hopes that somewhere down the road they will be able to receive a heart transplant. It all depends on how the underlying disease progresses."
Becker's Muscular Dystrophy is a genetic and milder form of muscular dystrophy that affects mainly males. The boy's mother, Jennifer Banks, has had to deal with the heartache of this disease most of her life.
"Two of my brothers had it," Banks said. "One of them died a decade after receiving a heart transplant and the other never lived long enough to receive a new organ. It's heartbreaking to watch my boys go through the same thing."