This Man Lived 555 Days Without A Real Heart Before Receiving A Transplant
The 25-year-old father of three suffered from a condition that causes irregular heartbeats and presents a high risk for cardiac arrest.
If we're being frank, this story sounds crazy. Some man was able to live for more than a year without a heart. However, 25-year-old Stan Larkin's story is a modern tale about the wonders of science and the determination of the human spirit.
When Larkin was 16 years old, he was playing basketball near his home in Ypsilanti, Mich., when he suddenly collapsed on the court. Doctors diagnosed Larkin with arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia (ARVD) which causes irregular heartbeats and presents a risk of cardiac arrest. A defibrillator--a small device that issues electric charges to fix the abnormal heartbeats--was placed in his heart and would work fine as long as the patient doesn't engage in any strenuous activity like, pick up basketball, which Larkin enjoys.
The defibrillator worked for a while, but it became clear Larkin would need a heart transplant after his case of ARVD advanced. A defibrillator is effective when one side of the patient's heart is failing, unfortunately, both sides of Larkin's heart were weak. The news only got worse as Larkin would have to wait his turn in the long line of patients before him who also needed a heart.
A cardiac surgeon at the University of Michigan Hospital thought maybe Larkin, a father of three, could live without a human heart entirely until he received his transplant. The left-of-center idea proved valuable and on Nov. 7, 2014, Larkin was hooked up to "Big Blue" a 418 pound machine, which is meant as a gas station of sorts while the patient is waiting for a transplant. The machine works by pumping compressed air through two tubes that are attached to two cone like valves that replace both ventricles. The only problem, it's 418 pounds, which is basically a washing machine. Larkin was alive, yes, but was bound to "Big Blue."
Things eventually got better for Larkin.
In June of 2014, the FDA approved a smaller, more compact version of "Big Blue" called the Freedom Portable Driver. The device is 13.5 pounds and fits inside a backpack and performs the exact same function as "Big Blue." Larkin, who could now leave the hospital, was thankful for it, but still had to get used to the upgrade.
“It was kind of stressful at the beginning, because I had to get used to the noise. It was a lot of noise 24/7, the heartbeat," Larkin said. As I got used to the noise, I could finally go to sleep. After that, I had to get used to carrying three extra bags with me, everywhere I went. I had to have all this stuff every time I moved.”
The device can be plugged into a wall outlet or even a carjack, and comes with a display panel showing the patient's heartbeat per minute and cardiac output.
Yes, despite the backpack being a vast improvement from the 418 pound machine he was once tied to, this still wasn't a seamless transition. Larkin said he couldn't pick up his daughter and had to take very careful, and quick baths, due to the electric nature of the backpack. Yet, after 555 days after his ordeal began, Larkin finally received a real heart.
"I’ll probably run a few pickup games, but not right away,” he said. “I haven’t taken a shot yet without the backpack hooked up. I just want to put the heart to use.”