What’s that old saying people say about ‘having a heart’…?
Clearly, those people never met Stan Larkin. Even people who know nothing about medicine understand that the heart performs a vital role in your body. However, when doctors diagnosed Stan with a rare medical condition, there was only one thing they could do to save him…
Stan Larkin was just your average kid from Michigan. However, almost 10 years ago, he collapsed during a game of basketball. Shortly after, he was diagnosed with familial cardiomyopathy, a genetic disorder that causes inefficient blood flow.
In The Family
After Stan collapsed, it didn’t take doctors long to realize what was wrong with him. Shortly after his diagnosis, it was also discovered that his little brother, Dominique, was suffering from the same condition.
A Terrible Condition
Dr. Jonathan Haft, a University of Michigan surgeon who’s performed operations on both the brothers, told CNN that familial cardiomyopathy is “an awful condition to have.” And it didn’t take long for it to manifest in some pretty alarming ways.
Arrhythmias and Irregular Heartbeats
The condition is characterized by the muscles in one of the heart’s chambers stretching, which impacts the organ’s ability to pump blood around the body. This can lead to arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats, but more alarmingly, heart failure.
Everyone Needs A Heart
Since we were kids, we’ve been taught that your heart is vital in order to stay alive. But imagine sitting in the doctor’s office and being told that, well, that wasn’t necessarily true…
This is exactly what happened to Stan and Dominique, both of whom suffered cardiogenic shocks at the end of 2014. At this point, it was decided that the brothers both needed new hearts. But there was another step to take first…
In Need Of A Transplant
At any given moment, there are about 4,000 people in the U.S. in need of a heart transplant. But, if you have to wait too long, your other organs may start to fail, which is why an interim solution was needed…
Living Without A Heart
What happened next is one of the most incredible medical stories in recent history. Stan survived without a heart for a staggering 555 days, and it’s unbelievable…
An Artificial Heart
The interim solution comes in the form of an artificial heart, which both of the brothers ended up receiving. Dominique remained a hospital inpatient for six weeks with his, until a suitable human donor was found. But for Stan, however, things were a little different.
Carrying His Heart in a Back Pack
According to Dr Haft, Stan was the ideal candidate to test an artificial heart away from the hospital. And so he spent 18 months carrying his artificial heart in a backpack everywhere he went, without a real one in his chest.
His temporary heart is called a Syncardia, a special device that’s used when both of a person’s heart ventricles fail. It allowed him to go home from the hospital and return when a suitable donor organ was found.
Adjusting to Life
Stan was understandably pretty surprised about the whole thing. “I was shocked when the doctors started telling me that I could live without a heart in my body and that a machine was going to be my heart,” he told CNN. “Just think about it – a machine.”
The Freedom Driver
The Syncardia was connected to another machine called the Freedom Driver, via two tubes that emerged just below Stan’s rib cage. This 13-pound machine didn’t just power the manmade heart; it also pumped air into it so that blood could flow around his whole body.
A Wonderful Attitude
The artificial heart didn’t really hinder Stan too much. He wasn’t bed-ridden, nor was he forced to drastically change his lifestyle too much. It helped that, throughout the 18-month period, Stan maintained an amazingly positive attitude.
Business as Usual
Stan still played pick-up basketball with his life-preserving backpack on, he hung out with his kids and rode in cars with his friends. “It’s just like a real heart,” he explained to CNN. “It’s just in a bag with tubes coming out of you, but other than that, it feels like a real heart.”
Thriving On The Device
“He really thrived on the device,” Dr. Haft told the University of Michigan Health System. “This wasn’t made for pick-up basketball. Stan pushed the envelope with this technology. All that the patient couldn’t do was give piggy-back rides to his children”.
Help From His Family
Stan’s family very much embraced his situation. His mother, Voncile McCrae, regularly bandaged the holes where the tubes entered his body. “We had to be careful so that he wouldn’t get an infection,” she told CNN.
Finally, After 555 Days…
After 555 days with the artificial heart, Stan finally received a transplant from a human donor. Thanks to the success of the Syncardia device, which allowed him to live as normal a life as possible while waiting, his recovery has been faster than normal.
Giving Others Hope
Stan said “I hope my experience will help others in similar situations. I just want to tell them that you have to go through the fear, because it helps you,” he told CNN. “I’m going home so fast after the transplant because it helped me stay healthy.”
David J. Pinsky, a director of the University of Michigan’s Frankel Cardiovascular Center, called Stan and Dominique “heroes.” “You’ll make a difference for a lot of patients,” he said during a press conference. “You’ll make a difference to the doctors of the future. We thank you for allowing us to share your story and your bravery in sharing it.”
[Featured image credit: www.uofmhealth.org]