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University of Michigan Health System

This 25-Year-Old Lived for Over a Year With an Artificial Heart in a Backpack

While waiting for an organ donation to become available.

| 3 min read

While waiting for an organ donation to become available.

Back in 2014, Stan Larkin became the first-ever patient in Michigan discharged with an artificial heart in a backpack that pumped blood around his body to keep him alive.

Now, 555 days later, the 25-year-old has received a successful heart transplant, and has become a living example of the capabilities of this artificial heart device, called SynCardia.

As teens, Larkin and his brother were both diagnosed with familial cardiomyopathy, which is a genetic heart condition that can lead to heart failure with no warning. The condition is linked to a leading cause of sudden death among athletes, the press release notes.

Larkin’s older brother Dominique also received the backpack with a Total Artificial Heart (TAH) and blood pumper.

"They were both very, very ill when we first met them in our intensive care units," transplant surgeon Jonathan Haft, from the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center, said in the release. "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."

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Luckily, Dominique only needed to use the technology shortly before he was able to receive a full heart transplant, but Stan was fitted with the Freedom® portable driver so he could wait out the remainder of his time in the comfort of his own home rather than the hospital.

The portable backpack device weighs 6 kilograms (13.5 pounds) and connects to the patient’s vascular system to pump oxygenated blood through the body. The doctors weren’t exactly certain how the device would restrict Stan, but he shocked them by managing to continue playing basketball.

“He really thrived on the device. This wasn't made for pick-up basketball," Haft said in the release. "Stan pushed the envelope with this technology."

Haft performed the heart surgery at the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center last month on May 9, and Larkin has now fully recovered from the procedure — a “unique national triumph.”

"It was an emotional rollercoaster," Larkin said at a news conference when he described living with the heart in a backpack.

"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."

According to the American Heart Association, there are about 5.7 million Americans living with heart failure — 10 percent of whom have advanced heart failure. Since there aren’t 5.7 million spare hearts waiting around to be donated, Larkin’s story suggests that SynCardia might be another option to tide people over until they can receive a new heart.

The two brothers have joined Haft, who teaches at the University of Michigan Medical School, to share their stories and raise awareness of the impact that the device could have on those with heart failure.

"You're heroes to all of us," said David J. Pinsky, director of the Frankel Cardiovascular Center. "The fact that you take your story public and allow us to teach others makes a difference. You'll make a difference for a lot of patients. 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."

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