Bob, a successful Hollywood set construction supervisor, was first diagnosed with cardiomyopathy – a condition where the heart muscle becomes enlarged, thick or rigid. He also eventually developed atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter, which are abnormal heartbeats that increase the risk of stroke and heart failure.
Over time, doctors implanted five types of pacemakers and defibrillators to help manage Bob’s conditions. He took medication and was told to lose 50 pounds. Within a year of eating healthier and exercising, the former water polo player was swimming a mile a day, bicycling regularly and had lost 100 pounds.
But even though Bob was doing all the right things, his condition worsened. He began having difficulty breathing to the point that he could no longer swim for exercise. Because his lungs were continually filling with fluid, he could no longer sleep lying down. He had to sleep in a recliner just so he could breathe.
“I basically was drowning,” Bob said. “I know exactly what a fish feels like when you pull him out of the water and he’s gasping for breath.”
The following year, Bob’s heart began to fail rapidly and he was admitted to Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute. His ejection fraction — the percentage of blood that leaves the heart each time it contracts — was already low at 45%. A normal ejection fraction is between 55% and 70%. After he was admitted, it sank to 28%, and then within a week, to 17%.
Bob was put on the heart transplant waiting list. When his kidneys began to fail too, surgeons approached him about using the SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart (TAH) to help him survive until a matching donor heart became available.
“It wasn’t a hard decision because it was either having a bridge to transplant or not be here,” said Bob, who talked with his wife, Cheree, and his brother, Jim, before making the decision. “I told doctors to sign me up. I just put it in the Lord’s hands.”