At a Glance:
When Marcela, 20, gave birth to her son, Santiago, she felt nothing but joy and excitement. But just four days later, she began to experience fatigue and shortness of breath. Doctors believed that the pregnancy had strained her heart, which was already weak because of a congenital condition, and she was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy. Marcela’s twin sister had undergone a heart transplant at age 11, and it looked like Marcela would also need a new heart.
Concerned that Marcela wouldn’t survive long enough for a matching donor heart to be found, doctors at Banner – University Medical Center Tucson (formerly University of Arizona Medical Center) decided to implant the SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart (TAH) to bridge her to a heart transplant and hopefully allow her to watch her baby grow up.
Marcela was the first female SynCardia TAH patient in the U.S. to be discharged home using the Freedom Driver.
Marcela, after being discharged home using the Freedom Driver
Once Marcela had recovered from the implant surgery and her condition had stabilized, she was switched from the Companion 2 (C2) Hospital Driver to the Freedom® Portable Driver, a portable pump for the SynCardia TAH that can be carried in the Backpack or Shoulder Bag.
After she and her family completed extensive training on how to operate and care for the Freedom Driver, which at the time, was undergoing an FDA-approved clinical trial (it received FDA approval in 2014), Marcela became the first woman in the U.S. to be discharged from the hospital without a human heart.
Marcela returned home to wait for her matching donor heart just in time to celebrate her 21st birthday with her family. Once home, Marcela didn’t let anything stop her from doing what she enjoyed most. She went to the mall, walked trails and even rode her bicycle.
After 245 days of support with the SynCardia TAH, including 127 days at home with the Freedom Driver, Marcela received the phone call she’d been waiting for: a donor heart had become available.
In May 2017, Marcela and her family celebrated her sixth anniversary with her donor heart. Since her surgery, Marcela says her health has been good and that she has had no issues with rejection. “Physically, I feel much better,” she said. “I can do whatever I want. I can go hiking, I can go play with my son.”
On weekends, Marcela and her family enjoy going to the movies, exploring the outdoors, riding horses at her husband’s family ranch, going to the nearby lake and barbecuing with her family.
“Before I had my transplant, sometimes I thought I wouldn’t have the opportunity to see my son grow up,” she said. “So now everything he does, it’s a special moment for me.”
Each year, on the anniversary of her transplant, Marcela and her family go out to dinner and attend Mass, where she gives thanks to every person who helped her.
“You can’t give up,” said Marcela. “There is a light at the end of the tunnel. You just have to go with it. What is most important is to not let anything stop you — do what you enjoy. Now I have more opportunity to live my life to the fullest with no regrets. Everything I want to do, I do it. I don’t put it off until tomorrow.”