At a Glance:
Bob, a successful Hollywood set construction supervisor, was first diagnosed with cardiomyopathy – a condition where the heart muscle becomes enlarged, thick or rigid – in the late 1990s. 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, in 2012, 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.”
Bob enjoys an outing with his family while supported by the SynCardia TAH.
After several weeks of recovery, when his condition had stabilized, Bob was switched to the Freedom® Portable Driver, a smaller, lighter pump for the TAH that can be carried in the Backpack or Shoulder Bag. The Freedom Driver not only gives TAH patients greater mobility, but it also allows patients who meet discharge criteria to enjoy life at home with their families and friends while they wait for a matching donor heart.
After Bob was discharged from the hospital, he got right to work. “I’m not one to sit around watching TV and eating bonbons,” he said. “I was able to do so much with the SynCardia heart.”
As a volunteer handyman at the school where his wife worked as a physical education teacher, he put together furniture, fixed gym equipment and installed shelving. At home, he tiled the floor of their entire house, hung doors, installed crown molding and painted walls.
For recreation, Bob went trap shooting with friends, shot handguns at the range and hunted doves on overnight trips to Bakersfield. He brought along extra batteries to keep his Freedom Driver running.
Bob and Cheree also took several road trips between Los Angeles and Arizona. They watched their daughter, Cheyenne, play softball at Arizona State University, where she tied a homerun record of 20. They attended her graduation in Tempe and visited one of their sons Bobby, who was attending the University of Arizona (UA) in Tucson. Their other son, Luke, is working toward a career in law enforcement.
Bob says he wasn’t slowed down by the TAH which supported him for 663 days before he received word that a matching donor heart and kidney were available. “I was ready,” he said. “I said my prayers and asked the good Lord to look over my family.”
In May 2016, Bob and Cheree took another road trip, this time post-transplant, to attend Bobby’s graduation from the UA in Tucson, where SynCardia’s headquarters are located.
While in town, they enjoyed a special tour of SynCardia’s manufacturing facilities, and SynCardia employees were treated to more than an hour of questions and answers with Bob, who wowed everyone with his stories of beating heart failure with the TAH.
“It was a visit I felt I had to make,” Bob said. “I wanted to thank SynCardia. Without this device and the skilled engineers and designers, I’d be dead and I’d be missing out on a lot of cool things. Everyone at SynCardia are my guardian angels.”