Nearly four years of fear, worry and anguish dissolved into unbridled joy when the “Bionic Bride” Ally Smith waltzed down the aisle with Mike Babineaux on their wedding day, June 26 — just a year after heart patient Ally had been planning her own funeral.
College sweethearts Ally and Mike saw their future in peril when Ally developed cardiomyopathy — a heart virus that is often fatal. The Texas A&M students had been dating for about six months when Ally was diagnosed in the spring of 2007, but even when it looked like Ally’s life was going to be cut tragically short, Mike still got down on bended knee and asked for her hand in marriage.
But thanks to the marvels of modern medicine, the pair not only saw their wedding day become a reality, but now can confidently plan a future: Doctors implanted a HeartMate II mechanical pump into Ally that takes over the pumping function of her own weakened muscle. And since her 2009 implant, it’s been a case of so far, so good for the gal dubbed the Bionic Bride.
“A year to the day that she almost died was the day she got married, so it was like a rebirth,” Ally’s mother Krista Smith told Matt Lauer live on TODAY Wednesday in New York.
While the beaming Bionic Bride — now the Bionic Wife — appeared with her mother, dad Ronnie Smith and her heart doctor Roberta Bogaev on TODAY, work commitments kept Mike Babineaux back home in Corpus Christi. Still, he was front and center in the family’s thoughts as they talked about the man who stuck with Ally through thick and thin.
Last May, Babineaux appeared with Smith on TODAY, explaining why he stuck by Ally even when their future together seemed hopeless. “I just love her, and no one in my life could replace her,” he told Lauer. “I want to see it through to the end, all the way.”
Mike originally proposed to Ally in September 2008, but within a week, her rapidly deteriorating heart caused her body to shut down. Unlikely to find a heart donor in time to save her life (only 5 percent of those needing heart transplants are lucky enough to receive them), doctors opted to implant what essentially is a bionic heart during a risky, touch-and-go procedure.
Ally, in fact, had a life-or-death moment during the first implant attempt; a kink in the implant system caused doctors to abort the procedure. At one point, nurses told the Smiths their daughter was unlikely to last the night. But a second attempt did the trick, and now Ally is kept alive and amazingly mobile with an implanted heart pump that connects to an external battery she carries in a handbag slung across her shoulder.
Ally told NBC News it was Babineaux’s love that carried her through her darkest days. “He’s been with me for four years, and not once did he leave because it was going to get too tough,” she said. “It’s a book that’s not done being written. Me and him are going to be 95 years old and still kicking!”
Ally’s prognosis is hopeful. Speaking on TODAY Wednesday, Dr. Bogaev said the HeartMate II was originally devised to buy time for a patient needing a heart transplant, but as the device essentially does the heart’s work for it, doctors have found the heart actually has time to rest and heal itself.
There may yet come a day when Ally doesn’t need her bionic heart at all — and she can hardly wait. An enthusiastic athlete in college, she can only exercise moderately now, and because her life revolves around the battery pack attached to her heart pump, she’s not allowed to get it wet with a swim.
“I’m ready for it to come out,” she told Lauer. “My body’s not ready yet, but I’m ready. Eventually I want to enjoy the things I can’t do in Corpus, living on a beach and not being able to play in the water.”
But for now, Smith is just enjoying her time as a newlywed. She thought back fondly to her wedding day, a day she once believed she might not live to see, and told Lauer she made good on her vow to wear her electric blue cowboy boots underneath her stately wedding gown.
“They were awesome!” she told Lauer. “Everybody was, ‘Are you seriously wearing them?’ I was like, ‘Why not? It’s Texas, I wear boots all the time and I love them.’ ”
And the close brush with her own mortality made saying the “I dos” with her personal hero husband all the more poignant.
“When it came to exchanging vows, and it was my turn to say, ‘Till death do us part,’ I didn’t want to say it,” Ally told NBC. “I want to love him, not just until I die, but when I’m up there waiting for him or he’s up there waiting for me.”
Dr. Bogaev added she believes the day will come when Ally is free from needing her bionic heart. “Especially patients who are young like Ally, we see their heart function improve and it allows us to remove the pump,” she told Lauer.
“She’s made incredible progress. Her heart has dramatically improved.”