Distance Runner Gets Second Chance at Life Thanks to Total Artificial Heart

WEST JORDAN, Utah — Aug. 27, 2018 — Despite being an accomplished distance runner, Olaf Questereit has been suffering from heart problems for nearly a decade. Earlier this year – after several valve repairs, multiple arrhythmias, a defibrillator pacemaker, medication and constant atrial fibrillation – Olaf was referred to Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute.

“He had a genetic problem, [arrhythmogenic] right ventricular dysplasia, that made his right heart fail,” explained Dr. William T. Caine, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute.

Known as ARVD, this rare form of cardiomyopathy is the leading cause of sudden cardiac death among athletes. According to a GoFundMe page set up by Olaf’s partner, Olaf has run three 100-milers, 42 marathons and numerous other events despite his heart problems.

Olaf’s best option, according to Dr. Caine, was implantation of the SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart (TAH) as soon as possible. “Because it was his right side and because of the rhythm problems, those are two reasons why a total artificial heart was the best thing for him.”

Since receiving the TAH, Olaf’s focus has been on getting stronger for his eventual heart transplant. His current routine includes physical therapy multiple times a day and going on outdoor walks. “[Patients] feel like the transplant side of it is a much easier operation because they’re in such better shape when they go into it,” said Dr. Caine.

While the process has been difficult for Olaf at times, he remains optimistic and focused. “It’s a miracle,” Olaf says. “I think to myself every day, ‘I’d be dead if it weren’t for this,’ and waiting for a transplant is nothing because I’ve still got this thing to keep me going.”

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