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Total artificial heart keeps advanced heart failure patient going and going

Design advances lead to smaller, more portable ventricular assist devices

Without a human heart, Stanley Larkin has visited a water park this summer and plays basketball with family and friends.

Stan Larkin is back in the game, using a backpack-sized power supply for his total artificial heart.

Stan Larkin is back in the game, using a backpack-sized power supply for his total artificial heart.

He has a total artificial heart which is used when end-stage heart failure affects both sides of the heart and other more common heart-supporting devices are inadequate to keep patients alive.

“The device Stan has is the SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart, a mechanical pump to bridge him to transplantation,” says University of Michigan cardiac surgeon Jonathan Haft, M.D.  “He’s still listed for a heart transplant and we hope to transplant him as soon as an organ is available. In the meantime he can be at home, he can be functional, and continue to rehabilitate himself so he’s in the best possible shape when his opportunity comes.”

The total artificial heart was implanted in December 2014 to replace the two lower chambers of Stanley’s heart. It pumps blood to the body and vital organs, just as a healthy heart would.

A portable power supply, which Stanley carries in a backpack, helps the total artificial heart do its job. The University of Michigan is the only Michigan heart program to send home patients with the wearable technology.

“I had a lot of questions, but after I got it, I felt so much better,” says Stanley who was diagnosed with right ventricular dysplasia which runs in his family. “This is what’s keeping me going. I can’t wait to get a heart transplant so I can truly feel like myself again.”

Outlook for total artificial heart

You might need a TAH for one of two reasons:

  • To keep you alive while you wait for a heart transplant
  • If you’re not eligible for a heart transplant, but you have end-stage heart failure in both ventricles

Recent design advances have resulted in smaller, portable ventricular assist devices (VADs) that may improve the quality of life for a broader group of patients.

Sized to fit smaller bodies. Until recently, VADs were too big to fit in many people’s chests, especially women and adolescents. Only people with large chests could get them. The University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center has been invited to study the effectiveness of SynCardia’s 50cc total artificial heart study device, which is a smaller version of the 70cc SynCardia heart.

Destination therapy. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently announced plans to offer TAH as destination therapy in the trial setting for its enrollees who are not eligible for a heart transplant. It opens the door for a new population to take advantage of the technology.

Portable power. Prior to the development of the Freedom® driver, patients with a total artificial heart were confined to the hospital connected to “Big Blue” — a driver which weighs 418 pounds and is the size of a washing machine. The 13-pound Freedom® driver, sized to fit in a backpack or shoulder bag, does the same thing as Big Blue except it is portable.

The design and type of ventricular assist device your doctor recommends will depend on your overall health, how long you’ll likely need the device, and other factors.

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