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While awaiting a transplant, this guy lived with an artificial ‘heart in a backpack’ for 555 days

For more than a year, Stan Larkin was a heartless man — literally. The 25-year-old had his heart removed while awaiting transplant and was sustained using a backpack-encased artificial heart. Larkin not only survived 555 days with this portable heart, but he also thrived, returning home from the hospital and even playing basketball with the device.

The journey for Larkin started in 2007 when he was a teenager living in Michigan. He passed out unexpectedly during a basketball game and was screened for a potential heart condition. Both he and his brother were eventually diagnosed with arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia (ARVD), an inherited heart condition that often is the cause of sudden cardiac death in young athletes. Following their diagnosis, Larkin and his brother Dominique were placed on a donor list and waited years for an available heart. When their hearts could no longer sustain them and other conventional measures wouldn’t work, the pair underwent surgery to have their hearts removed and replaced with a SynCardia Total Artificial Heart, a device that does the work of the heart for the patient and is used when there are no other treatment options.

Domonique received his heart transplant a few weeks after the artificial heart was installed, but Larkin had a much longer wait. To make life more normal, Larkin was outfitted with the Freedom Portable Driver, a 13.5 pound backpack-mounted Total Artificial Heart that pumped oxygenated blood throughout his body. This device made it possible for Larkin to leave the hospital and return home where he could spend time with his family. He was the first Total Artificial Heart patient to be discharged from the University of Michigan hospital and the first in the Midwest to use the Freedom device.

Larkin wore “the backpack” for more than a year before he finally underwent a heart transplant in May 2016. During that time, Larkin pushed the device to the limits. “He just really thrived on the device,” said U-M cardiac surgeon Dr. Jonathan Haft to Michigan’s MLive. “I think the Freedom driver had to be exchanged about 10 times when he was at home because this thing wasn’t built for pickup basketball. He really pushed the envelope.” With a new heart in place and freedom from the backpack, Larkin looks forward to resuming his active lifestyle alongside his brother.

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Kelly Hodgkins
Kelly's been writing online for ten years, working at Gizmodo, TUAW, and BGR among others. Living near the White Mountains of…
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