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SynCardia Systems, Inc.

Press Release:

Women Can Help Save Their Own Lives by Knowing the Symptoms of Heart Failure

Loving Husband Grateful Virginia Woman’s Action Led to a SynCardia Total Artificial Heart Implant That Saved Her Life

Michelle Nichols, in front with cap, is surrounded by her supportive family as she walks in the American Heart Association’s Richmond Heart Walk: (clockwise from left) cousin Kristal Ellworth, dad Jon Kettl, nephew William Bueche, husband Mike and stepsister Elizabeth Kettl. Michelle, whose SynCardia Total Artificial Heart implant bridged her to a donor heart transplant, volunteers with heart patients. She advocates for good health and organ donation. Michelle Nichols, in front with cap, is surrounded by her supportive family as she walks in the American Heart Association’s Richmond Heart Walk: (clockwise from left) cousin Kristal Ellworth, dad Jon Kettl, nephew William Bueche, husband Mike and stepsister Elizabeth Kettl. Michelle, whose SynCardia Total Artificial Heart implant bridged her to a donor heart transplant, volunteers with heart patients. She advocates for good health and organ donation. TUCSON, Ariz. – Dec. 17, 2013 – Doctors told Michelle Nichols she had bronchitis. Instead, she was suffering from end-stage biventricular (both sides) heart failure. Once implanted with the SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart as a bridge to transplant, the symptoms and source of her heart failure were eliminated, allowing her body to get stronger for a donor heart transplant.

It all started in June 2011 when Nichols, 36, thought she caught a cold after a vacation with her husband. It progressed to what a doctor diagnosed as bronchitis. Nichols started the first of several courses of antibiotics, which didn’t take away her symptoms.

By July her ankles began to swell and she started to suffer from shortness of breath. “I couldn’t walk more than a few feet from the couch to the TV,” she recalls.

She continued to feel weaker and then became alarmed Sept. 4 when she experienced swelling in her stomach. “I told my mom, ‘I think we need to go to the emergency room.’ You know your body and you know when something is wrong.”

On that day Nichols went to the emergency room at Mary Washington Hospital near her Fredericksburg, Virginia, home. She was admitted for treatment, but by Sept. 16 the hospital had her airlifted to Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center (VCU) in Richmond, a SynCardia Certified Center about an hour away, for more advanced treatment.

Cardiologists told Nichols it was possible that a long-dormant virus had attacked her heart. They attempted to improve her condition with medication and an intra-aortic balloon pump. Nothing worked.

Finally, with her heart continuing to deteriorate, surgeons told Nichols she only had two days of life left unless she had her dying heart removed and replaced with the SynCardia Total Artificial Heart. “That was pretty scary,” she recalls, but she agreed to the procedure. She was implanted Sept. 29, 2011. “They were using the SynCardia Heart as a bridge to transplant,” she says. “I was happy with that.”

The SynCardia Heart eliminates the source and symptoms of end-stage biventricular heart failure. Similar to a heart transplant, the SynCardia Total Artificial Heart replaces both failing heart ventricles and the four heart valves.

Soon after the implant, a determined Nichols exercised in the hospital almost every day. To give her mobility she received the Freedom® portable driver, which is a 13.5-pound wearable power supply for the Total Artificial Heart. “I got up every day and did some walking because if I got stronger and healthier, it got me closer to the heart transplant,” she says. “You have to fight for your life.”

Nichols’ family rallied around her. Her sister moved from Michigan to take care of the family’s beauty supply business, which Nichols managed. Her mom, Valerie Kettl, stayed with Michelle. Her husband, Mike, drove more than two hours one way from his job in Manassas to be with her every day and sometimes overnight.

Nichols spent her days in physical therapy, visited with other heart patients, played a dance video game and had store products brought in for a spa day with patients and nurses.

News finally came that Nichols would get her donor heart. She received her human heart transplant on Dec. 4, 2011 and went home 30 days later.

Mike Nichols is grateful for the life extension Michelle received. “Due to the SynCardia Total Artificial Heart, Michelle and I were able to renew our wedding vows in Las Vegas and we’re able to celebrate many more years together,” he says.

Today, Michelle Nichols volunteers for VCU’s heart support group and urges everyone to become an organ donor and know the symptoms of heart disease.

The American Heart AssociationAmerican Heart Association says many women suffer from unrecognized heart failure symptoms and delay getting medical attention. Like Nichols, women should listen to their bodies and seek helpseek help when something doesn’t feel right.

“Take care of yourself,” she advises. “Get regular checkups.” And if faced with the decision whether to have a SynCardia Total Artificial Heart implanted, she doesn’t hesitate: “If it’s gonna keep you alive and helps you get stronger for your transplant, you should do it.”

CAUTION - The Freedom portable driver is an investigational device, limited by United States law to investigational use.

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About SynCardia Systems, LLC
SynCardia Systems, LLC in Tucson, Ariz., is the privately-held manufacturer of the world's first and only FDA, Health Canada and CE approved Total Artificial Heart. For people suffering from end-stage heart failure affecting both sides of the heart (biventricular failure), the SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart is used as a bridge to transplant, helping them survive until a matching donor heart becomes available. SynCardia also manufactures the Freedom® portable driver, which powers the temporary Total Artificial Heart and allows clinically stable patients to be discharged from the hospital to enjoy life at home while they wait for a heart transplant.

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SynCardia Contact:
Janelle Drumwright, jdrumwright@syncardia.com, (520) 547-7463

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