Navajo Nation Man Without a Human Heart Plans to Fly to His Heart Transplant
With the Freedom portable driver powering the SynCardia Total Artificial Heart, patients are now able to choose alternative transportation other than driving to the hospital for their donor heart transplant.
TUCSON, Ariz. – Dec. 2, 2014 – Christopher Larsen, supported by the SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart that saved his life, has taken advantage of a rule change that allows him to wait for a matching donor heart at his home in the Navajo Nation, a six-hour drive from University of Arizona Medical Center (UAMC). Most heart centers require heart transplant-eligible patients to live within a two-hours-or-less drive in order to be prepared to receive their donor heart.
On June 26, 2014, the FDA approved the Freedom® portable driver, which powers the SynCardia Total Artificial Heart. The approval removes the study’s requirement that the patient drive to the transplant center. This change gives Mr. Larsen and other SynCardia Total Artificial Heart patients eligible for hospital discharge the option, with the permission and cooperation of their physician(s) and insurance companies, to return to the hospital for their donor heart transplants by means other than driving.
When hospital discharge grew closer for Mr. Larsen, 44, he decided he did not want to find temporary housing in Tucson in order to be within the two-hour drive of UAMC. “I would have to look for a person to take care of me,” he says. “My family would still have to travel and visit me. I looked at it and I said it wasn’t worth it.”
Instead, he chose to return to Fort Defiance (Tséhootsooí in Navajo), a town of about 5,000 residents that straddles the Arizona-New Mexico border and is part of the Navajo Nation. “I’d rather be at home where I can be comfortable and be with my family,” Mr. Larsen says.
Mr. Larsen has worked out a plan in cooperation with the Tséhootsooí Medical Center, which is a five-minute drive from his home. When he gets the phone call that a matching donor heart is available, he will alert the hospital staff, which will prepare an air support team at Window Rock Airport four miles away.
He’ll be transported to the hospital and then to the local airport, flown to Tucson International Airport and then transported to UAMC for his heart transplant. The trip will take a little more than an hour.
Until that call comes, Mr. Larsen will spend his time visiting with his extended family who live nearby. He plans to play a little basketball, do a little fishing, attend church, continue his mixed martial arts training and get out to see things other than the grounds of UAMC.
“I am living a pretty normal life,” says Larsen. “I love being with my wife and son. This year I spent Thanksgiving at home instead of the hospital.” That saved his family a 12-hour round-trip drive to UAMC to visit with him.
Mr. Larsen’s wife, their 14-year-old son and Mr. Larsen’s younger brother are specially trained to take care of maintaining the Freedom portable driver. One of these caregivers, mainly his wife, is with him all the time.
With that kind of support, Mr. Larsen is confident about living far from his heart transplant hospital. “I don’t live in fear,” says Mr. Larsen. “As long as I’m with my family, I’m fine.”
Mr. Larsen, who suffered viral cardiomyopathy that led to end-stage biventricular (both sides) heart failure, received the SynCardia Total Artificial Heart implant as a bridge to a heart transplant at UAMC in July 2013. He received a Freedom® portable driver August 29, 2013.
While at UAMC, Mr. Larsen recovered and gained strength by training in mixed martial arts and working out with circuit training. “They gave me the exercise that I needed,” he says, “to get strong and build stamina and muscle mass. Now that I am at home, this conditioning helps me do all the things I need and want to do. Being in great shape will also help me recover faster when I receive my donor heart transplant.”
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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