Stan Larkin, 25, just received a total heart transplant — but not before surviving a year and a half without a real heart inside his body.
Larkin walked out of the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center with an artificial heart in his chest and a pump for it in his backpack. The artificial heart kept Larkin — the first ever person to get a completely artificial heart in Michigan — alive by pushing blood through his circulatory system for 555 days, until a real heart became available.
Larkin and his older brother, Dominique, were diagnosed at birth with familial cardiomyopathy, a disease that causes gradual heart failure. In December 2014, Larkin’s ailing heart was removed and replaced with SynCardia Freedom Portable Driver, a device that frees patients from big hospital-based pumping machines by giving them a 13-pound pump they can carry with them.
"They were both very, very ill when we first met them in our intensive care units," said Jonathan Haft, University of Michigan’s associate professor of cardiac surgery, and the surgeon who performed surgeries on Larkin. "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.”
Dominique had to use the device only for a few weeks but Larkin had to wait 17 months to get a heart transplant, and rather than deciding to waste his days staying at a hospital, opted for the miracle machine. Although Larkin says he was unable to give his daughter piggyback rides, he did manage to pay basketball with the device in place — a revelation that came as a huge surprise to his doctors.
“This wasn't made for pick-up basketball,” said Haft. “Stan pushed the envelope with this technology ... He really thrived on the device.”
Larkin received a real heart from a donor on May 9, 2016, and has fully recovered from the intensive procedure.
"I got the transplant two weeks ago and I feel like I could take a jog as we speak,” Larkin said, while calling his experience an “emotional rollercoaster.” “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.”
The United States has a population of 5.7 million Americans living with heart failure, out of which 10 percent have advanced heart failure, according to the American Heart Association. The U.S. has over 121,000 people on the organ transplant waiting list, yet there are not enough hearts to guarantee everyone a transplant and an average of 22 people die every day because of cardiac complications.
This amazing new miracle technology might just be the thing to sustain patients while they wait for a real organ to become available.