Culture

This Man Lived 555 Days Without a Human Heart

YouTube Screenshot of Stan Larkin, the 25-year-old who lived 555 days with a heart in his backpack.

A 25-year-old Michigan resident with a debilitating heart condition just received a heart transplant, but he lost his original heart in 2014! Stan Larkin wore an artificial heart in a backpack for 555 days — and he could even play basketball.

Stan Larkin and his brother Dominique were diagnosed as teenagers with familial cardiomyopathy, a genetic heart condition which can cause heart failure without warning. This is a leading cause of death in athletes.

In 2014, Stan became the first patient in Michigan to be discharged with a synthetic heart device known as a “Syncardia.” Some devices, like implantable defibrillators, can help with partial heart failure, but Syncardia is used for total heart failure.

After 555 days, he received a heart transplant this month. The success of both procedures — installing the Syncardia and replacing it with a human heart — suggests the device could be used to sustain other patients with total heart failure while they wait for a donor.

Both Larkin brothers waited years on the donor waiting list before being fitted with Syncardia devices. “They were both very, very ill when we first met them in our intensive care units,” said Jonathan Haft, the surgeon behind the transplant. “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.

Dominique received a full heart transplant after only a few weeks on the artificial heart, but Stan had to wait over 18 months. Due to the long wait, he was fitted with the Freedom® portable driver so he could leave the hospital and go home.

“You’re heroes to all of us,” David J. Pinsky, director of the Frankel Cardiovascular Center at the University of Michigan, told Stan and Dominique. “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.”

Stan loved to play basketball, and he was able to keep playing with the Syncardia and Freedom devices. But he also reported being unable to hold his daughters or give them piggy back rides.

Speaking to mLive, Larkin said he was looking forward to being able to hold his children again. “They’re going to attack me. They can’t wait. They’re going to be on the front, the back, my neck. They’re going to be jumping all over me.”

Check out the video on the next page.