Stan Larkin, The Man Who Lived Without a Heart for Over 500 Days
From sleeping every day in an iron lung to turning an ankle into a knee via rotationplasty, some individuals find themselves undergoing some truly extraordinary procedures. However, the case of Stan Larkin has made medical history. Stan became the very first man in Michigan who lived without a heart for 555 days outside of a hospital! With the help of a unique device and his backpack, Stan was not only able to live but thrive without a heart. What necessitated Stan to use an artificial heart powered by controls he carried in his backpack? Let’s find out.
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Why Did Stan Larkin Need to Use an Artificial Heart?
Stan Larkin was a healthy young man up until the age of 16 when he collapsed during a game of basketball. A diagnosis found that Stan suffered from a genetic heart disease known as “familial cardiomyopathy.” His 24-year-old brother Dominique also suffered from the same condition.
This genetic disease occurs when the heart muscles stretch and enlarge the open area of at least one heart chamber, reducing the organ’s blood pumping efficiency. Stan and Dominique suffered from arrhythmogenic dysplasia, a form of cardiomyopathy, resulting in failures and arrhythmias on both sides of the heart.
Both brothers experienced heart failure and cardiogenic shock, leading them to be equipped with artificial heart devices in 2014. Dominique remained in the hospital for six weeks before receiving a transplant. However, doctors informed Larkin that he was the perfect candidate to live outside the hospital with the SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart (TAH) device still attached to his body and the power source in a backpack.
How did Stan Larkin’s backpack heart function?
The SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart is designed to emulate the functions of a natural human heart. It replaced Larkin’s failing heart entirely, including the chambers and four valves. Two tubes exited the left side of his body from beneath the rib cage, connecting the artificial heart to a 13 lb (5.8 kg) machine called the “Freedom Driver.”
The Freedom Driver supplied the artificial heart with both power and compressed air. This air was delivered to the ventricles, allowing blood to be pumped into the body. To become the man who lived without a heart for over 500 days, Stan had to carry the Freedom Driver in a backpack to ensure it remained connected 24×7.
Even with such a complex device attached to him, Stan thrived and enjoyed living a normal life. From enjoying drives with his friends to even getting back onto the basketball court, he remained active during his time with the SynCardia TAH while taking immaculate care of the machine. Stan stated that the SynCardia TAH felt just like a real heart and was no different than going to school with a backpack.
Luckily, the man who lived without a heart has received a real one and no longer needs the backpack!
Stan may have been leading a nearly normal life while attached to the SynCardia TAH, but it was merely a stopgap solution while he waited for the real heart transplant. Thankfully, on 9th May 2016, Stan received his donor’s heart and has now fully recovered from the procedure. His aim in sharing his story is to spread awareness about the 5.7 million other Americans who live with heart failure and require donor hearts.
While a heart transplant can help increase the survival rate of people with cardiovascular diseases, it is not a lifelong cure. Patients will require repeated checkups and medication for a long time to ensure their condition does not worsen. However, stories such as that of Stan Larkin and medical marvels such as the SynCardia TAH are signs that people should remain optimistic even in the face of grueling adversities.
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