Cecil Hamlett

Patient Perspective: Cecil Hamlett

Editor’s Note: This patient perspective originally appeared in the summer 2022 issue of NEXT magazine in conjunction with the story on amyloidosis, "Out of the Dark". 

Trips to the mailbox exhausted him. Mowing the yard, usually a two-hour chore, began to take nearly six hours. His legs, ankles and feet were swelling, and he wasn’t sleeping well due to extended coughing spells when lying down.

Chest X-rays showed fluid on his lungs, which physicians in Lynchburg drew off several times, but the fluid kept returning within weeks. “I said, ‘We need to figure out what’s causing this. Me coming in and you drawing fluid off of me and us not knowing what’s causing it is not working for me,’” said Cecil Hamlett of his experiences before finding VCU Health.

His continued search for an explanation of what he was facing was not easy. Providers in Lynchburg inserted tubes and a camera into Hamlett’s chest to explore further. Based on that procedure, they scraped Hamlett’s lungs for fluid and glued his left lung to the inside of his chest wall (a procedure called pleurodesis), keeping him in the hospital for five days.

Seven days later, the fluid was back — and Hamlett was in the emergency room.

When his doctors turned their attention to the heart, they finally found signs of amyloidosis and sent Hamlett to VCU Health, where he met Dr. Shah in 2020.

Dr. Shah and Hamlett talked about treatment options and the lack of medication for his type of amyloidosis — the hereditary form — and possible next steps, which included a heart transplant.

“I didn’t hear anything else he said after ‘heart transplant,’” Hamlett said. “I thought, how did we get here so fast? I went to bed one night, and I woke up and my whole world had been turned upside down. I couldn’t wrap my head around it at first.”

Because Hamlett’s disease was so advanced, Dr. Shah decided the transplant was the only option he had. A team from VCU Pauley Heart Center completed Hamlett’s heart transplant on Sept. 19, 2020.

If Hamlett had not been diagnosed and referred to VCU Health, Dr. Shah said he could have died within the next six to 12 months. The diagnosis and heart transplant saved his life.

“You know something is going on, but you need someone to tell you what it is so you can get help,” Hamlett said. “To go through something like that changes your outlook on life. I just put my faith in God.”