London: Without a heart to pump oxygenated blood around the body, you die pretty quickly. Transplants though, are hard to come by, which is why scientists are looking into using CRISPR to allow pigs to host human-like hearts. In the meantime, however, one 25-year-old man has proved that it’s possible to live over a year while literally heartless.
Stan Larkin went a massive 555 days wearing an ‘artificial heart’ backpack, which filled in after his ticker was removed while he awaited a transplant donor. Both he and his brother Dominique were diagnosed with familial cardiomyopathy as teenagers – a terrible condition where your heart can fail without warning. Both siblings were on the transplant list for years, and eventually had their hearts removed to make way for healthy donor ones. For the duration of the wait, both brothers were fitted with a 13.5 pound backpack that connects directly to the cardiovascular system and takes over where the heart leaves off.
While implantable defibrillators and similar technology can assist with partial heart failure, this device – known as Syncardia – is designed to be used when both sides of the heart fail.
While Dominique only needed the device for a couple of weeks, Stan was plugged into his 24 hours per day for 555 days, finally receiving a full transplant on May 9, 2016.
Larkin stunned doctors by being able to continue playing basketball, despite having a backpack strapped to his back 24 hours a day. “He really thrived on the device,” said Jonathan Haft, of cardiac surgery at the University of Michigan, who carried out his surgery.
Stan now plans to take one step at a time – he’s even staying off the basketball court for a little while. “I’ll probably run a few pick-up games, but not right away. I haven’t taken a shot yet without the backpack hooked up. I just want to put the heart to use,” he said.