Man sees another Father’s Day thanks to an artificial heart and a timely transplant

Pat O’Hara didn’t expect to see another Father’s Day.

This time last year, the 59-year-old Silver Lake, Indiana resident was knocking on death’s door with blue fingertips caused by a lack of sufficient blood flow from his failing heart. Unhealthy hearts run through Pat’s family and he had already seen two of his siblings die from heart failure. And, last spring, he began to fear he would be next. He had a few months left to live unless he received a heart transplant, but his body simply wasn’t strong enough to endure such a major operation. He began to lose hope.

Fortunately, Pat was taken to Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital where doctors performed a medical first for Indiana that made it possible for his body to recover strength as he waited for a lifesaving heart transplant.

The next-generation mechanical implant, known as the SynCardia Total Artificial Heart, functioned as both a substitute heart and a “bridge-to-transplant” therapy that helped his body pump blood and regain organ function so that it could survive being transplanted with a human heart. After living with the portable mechanical heart for five months, Pat received his new human heart on Thanksgiving and was discharged home in time for Christmas.

“Without the artificial heart technology and his heart transplant, Mr. O’Hara wouldn’t be here today to see his kids, his grandchildren and the lives they’re going to have,” said I-wen Wang, M.D., Ph.D, a cardiothoracic surgeon at IU Health Methodist Hospital who specializes in heart and lung transplants and ventricular assist devices.

As he approaches a Father’s Day he never expected to see, Pat reflects on the past several months of his new life and the activities he’s been able to enjoy. “Today, I’m feeling better than ever," Pat said. "I’ve been working on cars, going fishing, playing with my kids and grandkids, and hanging out with my own father.”

“Before this operation, I didn’t have much of a future. But, now, I have a chance. They gave me a new life.”

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