The Incredible Case of Stan Larkin
Image Credit: University of Michigan Health System
Stan Larkin was the first patient in Michigan to ever be discharged with a SynCardia total artificial heart, back in 2014. He, long with his brother, was diagnosed with familial cardiomyopathy, a condition that can kill instantly and without warning – a leading cause of death among athletes.
His brother received a transplant back in 2015, but Stan had to wait until just recently to receive his own transplant. In the mean time, he wore a backpack 24/7 for 555 days, containing an artificial heart that pumped his blood for him. The unit, which weighs about 6 kilos, is a revolutionary tool that is hoped to be able to help others with severe heart failure while they wait for a life saving transplant.
The total artificial heart is a temporary replacement used when both sides of a person’s heart fail, and the more conventional devices such as an implanted defibrillator won’t work. When Dr. Jonathan Haft first met the two brothers, they were extremely sick.
“They were both very, very ill when we first met them in our intensive care units,” says Haft. “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.”
The incredible part of the story is that Stan not only was living without a heart for over a year, but led an almost normal life. He was able to play basketball with it on, something that astounded his doctors.
Haft, as associate professor of cardiac surgery at the University of Michigan Medical School, is grateful that the two brothers have allowed this to become an opportunity for education, and that they’ve come together to share their story of how artificial support can help those with severe heart failure.
According to the American Heart Association, there are about 5.7 million Americans currently living with heart failure, with about 10% having an advanced stage.
“You’re heroes to all of us,” says David J. Pinsky, M.D., a director of the U-M 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.”
A 25-year-old has just received a full heart transplant… but not before surviving for more than a year without a human heart inside his body.
Instead, Stan Larkin wore an ‘artificial heart’ in a backpack 24/7 for 555 days, which pumped blood around his body and kept him alive. The success of the procedure suggests that the device could be used to sustain other patients with total heart failure while they’re waiting for a donor.
Back in 2014, Stan became the first patient in Michigan to be discharged with the artificial heart device, which is known as a ‘Syncardia‘.
He and his brother Dominique had both been diagnosed as teenagers with familial cardiomyopathy, which is a genetic heart condition that can cause heart failure without any warning – it’s one of the leading causes of death in athletes.
After years on the donor waiting list, Stan – and eventually his younger brother Dominique – had their hearts removed and were fitted with the Syncardia device.
“They were both very, very ill when we first met them in our intensive care units,” said the surgeon behind the transplant, Jonathan Haft, from the University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Centre. “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.”
While other devices such as implantable defibrillators can help with partial heart failure, Syncardia is used when both sides of the heart fail.
Dominique only needed to use the technology for a few weeks before receiving a full heart transplant. But Stan had to wait more than a year, and instead of staying in hospital, he was fitted with the Freedom portable driver so he could go home in the meantime.
At the time, no one knew how much he’d be able to do with it. The portable device comes in the form of a 6-kg (13.5 pound) backpack that’s connected to the patient’s vascular system, to keep oxygenated blood pumping around the body.
WATCH: Artificial hearts make life possible without a pulse
It’s not the most versatile thing to have on you 24/7, and Stan reported not being able to hold his daughters or give them piggy back rides. But he did manage to continue playing basketball – a total surprise to his doctors.
“This wasn’t made for pick-up basketball,” said Haft. “Stan pushed the envelope with this technology … He really thrived on the device.”
Stan received his donor heart on 9 May 2016, and has now fully recovered from the procedure. He’s shared his story, which he calls an “emotional rollercoaster” with the press to raise awareness about the 5.7 million other Americans living with heart failure, and the need for heart donors.
“You’re heroes to all of us,” David J. Pinsky, director of the Frankel Cardiovascular Centre, said of 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.”
Completely replacing a heart with an artificial one in a backpack is an incredible demonstration of the technologies that transhumanists are trying to push. We can be thankful to Stan Larkin and his brother for making their story public and allowing others to understand the truly transformative power that technology has when used as an augmentation of the human body.
Will this be the path forward? Here are some questions to ponder:
- Should we provide a temporary, carry-around heart for all those with critical heart failure in order to live almost normal lives while waiting for a transplant?
- Stan was living without a heart for over a year, how long could have this continued?
- If in a similar situation, would you opt for an artificial heart you could carry around?
- Would it perhaps be better to have a permanent artificial heart instead of a transplant?
This is certainly an interesting time to be alive. With this, and other technologies, humans may be just around the corner from extending their lives indefinitely.