First patient leaves UMHS with artificial heart

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Stan Larkin poses for a portrait at the Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center Friday. Buy this photo

By Nabeel Chollampat, Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 26, 2015

For a man without his heart, Stan Larkin is in good spirits.

The University’s Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center recently provided 24-year-old Stan Larkin with a SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart that has allowed him to return home while waiting for a regular heart transplant.

Larkin has biventricular heart failure, meaning his ventricles cannot effectively pump blood to his organs and has suffered from multiple heart failures and arrhythmias. Typically, patients needing a new heart are placed on a transplant list. Once on the list, it could be months to years before a patient has access to the donor heart he or she needs.

Larkin is the first patient in Michigan history to leave a hospital without a human heart. He is currently equipped with the Freedom Driver, a portable pump created by SynCardia Systems, Inc., a device he will use until he is eligible for a heart transplant.

Jonathan Haft, associate professor of cardiac surgery, said Larkin’s need for a heart was urgent.

“His condition deteriorated to the point where we were considering him for heart transplantation, but we did not think that he was going to have the time to wait until that suitable donor became available,” he said.

Haft said mechanical heart support has progressed since the 1970s, but Larkin’s situation is a first in that the Freedom Driver is easily transportable and allows patients to leave the hospital.

“What’s new and innovative about this device is that the external component is now portable and allows patients to go home,” Haft said. “At our center, we’ve always been able to transplant patients within a five- or six-month period of time.”

Larkin is still listed for a heart transplant, as recipients of this device currently must be, but his ability to go home and be among his family for the holiday season is unique among eligible recipients.

“They could call me any day and tell me they’ve got that heart,” Larkin said. “Any day.”

Don Isaacs, vice president of communications for SynCardia Systems, Inc., said the timing was crucial.

“It’s a lot harder to bring back a patient who has already experienced damage versus getting our heart in there before the organs suffer any type of damage,” Isaacs said.

The Freedom Driver weighs about 13 pounds and can be carried around in a backpack. SynCardia’s previous device weighed 418-pound.

The device is constantly pumping and makes considerable noise. It works by delivering compressed air into the ventricles through two tubes exiting the body.

Larkin said the machine took some getting used to.

“I had to get used to the tubes coming out of my stomach,” he said. “I had no choice but to get used to it, but it’s helped me so far.”

Larkin said he was 16 when he collapsed at a basketball game and doctors discovered a condition called arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia. Since then, his heart condition deteriorated until Nov. 7, 2014, when his heart was replaced with the Total Artificial Heart.

Isaacs said the Freedom Driver, which was approved by the FDA in June 2014 as a bridge to transplantation, is calibrated to function as a heart replacement.

“People don’t die from heart disease; they die from heart disease not providing enough blood and nutrition and oxygen to the vital organs,” Isaacs said. “Biventricular failure means that both the left and right ventricles are going bad, so the point of our device is to prevent any damage to the vital organs.”

Haft said the device has proved beneficial so far.

“It’s not a burden for him,” Haft said. “He’s delighted to not have heart failure symptoms, and I think he’s enjoying his life out of the hospital, despite the extra effort that’s made to deal with the complexities of this equipment.”

Larkin, meanwhile, is just happy to just be out of the hospital.

“I don’t have to lay in the hospital bed all day and night anymore,” Larkin said. “I can get back to my life.”