Cardiac-Induced Black-out Convinces Alaska Man to Get the SynCardia Total Artificial Heart
Until his collapse, Chris Marshall was convinced he was not desperately ill from end-stage biventricular heart failure. The SynCardia Heart allowed him hike 607 miles as he waited for a heart transplant.
TUCSON, Ariz. – Sept. 30, 2014 – Alaskan hiker Chris Marshall thought he was in pretty good shape despite his heart failure, but a black-out while walking laps around the ICU indicated otherwise: He had end-stage heart failure that required a SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart implant to save his life.
“I didn’t think I was in that bad of shape,” says Chris, 53, as he recalled trying to decide whether to follow the suggestions of cardiac surgeons at University of Washington Medical Center and get a SynCardia Total Artificial Heart implant.
“It was a tough decision for me,” he says. “I kind of had an answer to my prayers, but it was not the answer I was looking for.”
The answer came when Chris blacked out and collapsed. He says it took a long time for his color to return. “With me having that happen, that really gave me the answer to go ahead and proceed.”
Although Chris was diagnosed in 1999 with cardiomyopathy, which eventually destroys the heart muscle, and an irregular heartbeat, he continued his rugged lifestyle. He and his wife, Kathy, enjoy hiking in the wilds of Alaska.
His job as a lead instrument technician for ConocoPhilips often sends him outdoors around the frigid oil fields on the northern tip of Alaska, where it could get as cold as 50 degrees below zero before adding in the wind-chill factor.
On January 23, 2012, at the insistence of doctors at the Alaska Heart Institute in Palmer, he and Kathy flew down to UW Medical Center in Seattle so that Chris could be evaluated for a heart transplant.
What they thought would be a two-day trip turned out to be an eight-month fight for his life.
“Doctors at UW told me that it would be a life-threatening event for me to fly back to Alaska,” says Chris.
Before going to Washington, he had noticed that he would get short of breath on easy hikes, but he was still convinced that he wasn’t in such bad shape. Kathy remembers it differently.
“He was very sick at the end before we went to Seattle,” she says. She remembers that Chris couldn’t even walk across a room without getting winded.
He received the SynCardia Total Artificial Heart on February 6, 2012. It is the only FDA, Health Canada and CE (Europe)-approved device that eliminates the source of end-stage biventricular heart failure.
On March 21, Chris became the first Pacific Northwest patient to be discharged from a hospital without a human heart. The 13.5-pound Freedom® portable driver, which powers the SynCardia Heart, allowed him to wait for his matching donor heart transplant at a rented Seattle home where the couple lived with their beloved dog, Gracie.
Clinically stable SynCardia Total Artificial Heart patients like Chris can be discharged from the hospital using the Freedom portable driver. It can be worn in a backpack, carried in a shoulder bag or wheeled on a cart.
The Marshalls love geocaching, essentially a scavenger hunt using GPS, and explored more than 600 miles of Washington trails searching for treasures hidden on each hike. Chris’s treks included an 8-mile hike through a tunnel with his son Patrick, 25.
“I thought, ‘I’m not just going to sit on the couch,’” says Chris. “I refuse not to live.”
After hiking a total of 607 miles over seven months, Chris received his matching donor heart transplant on September 12, 2012. “I was thinking of what a blessing that would be to move on,” he says. “We were not going to be able to return to our home in Alaska until I was transplanted.”
They finally got back to their Wasilla home on December 21, 2012. Since then they’ve taken trips to Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Florence, Italy. They go fishing. They hike miles every day, often to search for and set up geocaches.
Chris is back at work—two weeks on, then two weeks off—in the oil fields above the Arctic Circle.
“The SynCardia Total Artificial Heart was really a blessing,” Kathy says. “With the Freedom portable driver, it enabled Chris to do so much.”
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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 SynCardia 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.
Janelle Drumwright, email@example.com, (520) 547-7463