It’s been nearly 50 years since the first heart transplant and still today these surgeries remain one of the most impressive feats of biomedical science. As truly life-saving as this procedure can be, people often have to wait for months and years to be matched with a compatible donor. However, help is on hand for those stuck on endless waiting lists, in the form of total artificial hearts.
Stan Larkin, now 25, and his brother Domonique were both diagnosed with familial cardiomyopathy. This form of disease results in the heart having difficulty pumping enough blood through the body.
“They were both very, very ill when we first met them in our intensive care units," said Jonathan Haft, University of Michigan associate professor of cardiac surgery, and the surgeon who performed the procedures on the brothers. "We wanted to get them heart transplants, but we didn't think we had enough time. There's just something about their unique anatomic situation where other technology wasn't going to work.”
Faced with a lack of compatible heart donors, Stan underwent an operation in 2014 to remove his failing heart and replace it with an external total artificial heart, dubbed the Freedom® portable driver.
The Freedom portable driver is a device that uses compressed air to pump blood around the body in the same way a heart does. This battery-powered device is portable and only weighs 6 kilograms (13 pounds). The device does an incredible job at keeping the patient in a healthy condition while a donor heart becomes available, but it isn’t considered a long-term option. Besides, Professor Haft said, “this wasn’t made for pick-up basketball,” referring to Stan’s love for playing the sport.
After using the artificial heart for 555 days, doctors at the University of Michigan performed heart transplant surgery on Stan in May this year.
Domonique, Stan’s brother, underwent a similar procedure, but received a transplant in 2015, so he had the artificial heart for less time.
“It was an emotional rollercoaster,” Stan said in a press conference. “I got the transplant two weeks ago and I feel like I could take a jog as we speak. I want to thank the donor who gave themselves for me. I’d like to meet their family one day. Hopefully they’d want to meet me.”