Stan Larkin has a total artificial heart powered by the portable Freedom Driver, allowing him to leave the hospital while he waits for a transplant.

Back in the game

First patient in state to leave hospital with a total artificial heart

issue 24 | Summer 2015

Going home from the hospital was an important milestone for Stan Larkin, a 24-year-old resident of Ypsilanti, and also for the state of Michigan. When Larkin was discharged on Dec. 23, 2014 from University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center in time to spend the holidays with his family, he went home without a human heart.

Larkin is the first in the state of Michigan to leave the hospital with a total artificial heart. Using a device called The Freedom Driver, a 13-pound power supply that delivers compressed air to pump blood through the body, Larkin's artificial heart is fueled by a portable driver, rather than the traditional "Big Blue" hospital driver that weighs 418 pounds and is the size of a washing machine.

All in the family

Stan Larkin and his brother Dominique Larkin, 23, are in a simultaneous battle with heart disease. In 2007, Stan collapsed at a basketball game, and tests revealed a condition called right ventricular dysplasia, a leading cause of cardiac arrest.

Because the heart condition can be inherited, doctors believed others in his family might be at risk. Just weeks after Stan's diagnosis, his younger brother, Dominique, was also found to have familial cardiomyopathy. Some people who have cardiomyopathy — especially those who have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) — may live a healthy life with few problems or symptoms. Others may have serious symptoms and complications. As the heart becomes weaker, it is less able to pump blood through the body and maintain a normal electrical rhythm.

Stan Larkin, with his father, Eugene, is regaining his health while waiting for a transplant.

Surgeons at the U-M Frankel Cardiovascular Center implanted a defibrillator to help regulate Stan's heart rhythm. For a time, the defibrillator kept Stan's heart beating at a regular rate, but he had to limit physical activity. It was not clear just how strong his heart was.

Running out of options

Over time, Stan's condition worsened and his dysplasia progressed to both ventricles of his heart so neither chamber could collect and pump blood effectively. He became progressively weaker, and his doctors grew more concerned that he wouldn't survive the wait for a suitable organ for transplant.

In October 2014, Stan was admitted to the U-M Frankel Cardiovascular Center and underwent a series of physiological tests to determine if he was a good candidate for an artificial heart. With the test results and the knowledge that his time was running out, this became his best option. On Nov. 7, 2014, doctors removed his failing heart and replaced it with the SynCardia temporary total artificial heart.

With the total artificial heart, there are two tubes that exit the body, and those tubes have to be connected to a machine that can deliver compressed air into the ventricles to allow blood to be pumped through the body.

Prior to the development of The Freedom Driver, the only FDA-approved driver for the SynCardia temporary total artificial heart was the large Big Blue hospital driver, which confined patients to the hospital for months, even years, waiting for a matching donor heart. The Freedom Driver does the same thing as Big Blue — deliver compressed air — except it is portable.

First connected to Big Blue, Stan was switched to The Freedom Driver, which was approved by the FDA in June 2014 to power the total artificial heart as a bridge to transplant. His care marks two milestones: he is the first U-M patient to make the transition to The Freedom Driver, and the first patient in Michigan to go home with it.

The Freedom Driver was approved by the FDA in June 2014 to power the total artificial heart as a bridge to transplant. Carried by the patient in a backpack, it weighs 13 pounds and is powered by rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.

The wait continues at home

"Stan is 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," says University of Michigan cardiac surgeon Jonathan Haft, M.D.

Stan's brother, Dominique, also progressed to bi-ventricular dysplasia and ultimately received an artificial heart. Since then, he received a heart transplant and continues to regain his health. Meanwhile, Stan worked with occupational and physical therapists to be well enough to navigate the world with The Freedom Driver.

The Freedom Driver is powered by two lithium-ion batteries that recharge with a standard electrical outlet, and is designed to be worn in a backpack or shoulder bag. Staying close to a power supply, eating low-sodium meals and taking a bevy of blood-thinning medications have helped Stan remain healthy as he continues his wait for a transplant.

There's no denying when he's around because of the sound of the rhythmic pulses broadcast by the device strapped to his back, but Stan says, "I can honestly say I've gotten used to it. This is what's keeping me going. I can't wait to get a heart transplant so I can truly feel like myself again."

Also In This Article:

Ventricular assist devices may be used as a destination therapy

U-M takes a team approach to heart failure treatment

Watch a video about Larkin's experience.