Stan Larkin, a recent heart transplant patient, lived without a heart for 555 days while he waited for a new one. Without a real heart, that is.
The 25-year-old Michigan resident suffered from a genetic form of heart disease called familial cardiomyopathy. He discovered it nine years ago when he collapsed during a basketball game. Larkin suffers from a type of cardiomyopathy called arrhythmogenic dysplasia. It causes arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats, and failure on both sides of the heart.
Originally, Larkin was going to just wait until a new heart was available for him. Doctors, however, realized his condition had worsened and were worried he was running out of time. They decided to replace his heart, temporarily, with an artificial one.
Doctors implanted the SynCardia temporary artificial heart in Larkin’s chest to replace his failing heart. The artificial heart has two tubes, which exit the left side of the body beneath the rib cage and connect to a 13-pound machine called the Freedom Driver. The driver pumps compressed air into the heart’s ventricles, allowing blood to be pumped through the body. Larkin carried the machine around in a backpack for 555 days before he received a heart transplant.
The portable machine allowed him to continue his normal life while waiting. He played basketball, spent time with his kids, all the activities he enjoyed before losing his real heart.
Larkin said the machine was “just like a real heart…It felt just like a backpack with books in it.”
The machine required little maintenance. When needed, Larkin’s mother helped him change the bandages covering the holes in his body where the tubes emerged in order to avoid infection.
“The technology that is evolving in the field of heart failure is very exciting,” said Dr. Jonathan Haft, a cardiac surgeon at the University of Michigan who operated on the brothers. “The total artificial heart falls into that category.”
It’s amazing to imagine what will happen in the future of heart technology. If Stan Larkin can live for over a year without a real heart, the future possibilities are endless.