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IU Health marks second medical first for man with artificial heart

Northern Indiana man leaves hospital with next-generation heart pump.

| Indianapolis—A medical first for Indiana made it possible for a northern Indiana man to return home this week with the mechanical heart that’s keeping him alive.

At the end of June, surgeons at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital implanted Patrick O’Hara with Indiana’s first SynCardia Total Artificial Heart, an FDA-approved mechanical device and “bridge to transplant” therapy for patients with end-stage failure of both sides of the heart. Nearly three months later, the 59-year-old from North Manchester, Ind. added a second medical first to his résumé by becoming the first Hoosier to go home with a next-generation portable heart pump known as the Freedom® Portable Driver.

Earlier this year, O’Hara was brought to IU Health Methodist Hospital with severely weakened heart muscles due to a 30-year battle with heart disease. He was extremely sick and weak and his fingertips were blue due to a lack of sufficient blood flow. Now, thanks to his artificial heart and portable heart pump, O'Hara was able to walk out of the hospital doors on his own and return home on Thursday, Oct. 10.

About the technology
Previous generations of total artificial heart technology offered zero mobility and required patients to spend their days confined to the hospital, waiting for a human donor heart while connected to a 400-pound, washing machine-sized pump.

Now, the Freedom® Portable Driver offers far more flexibility as a nearly 14-pound heart pump that connects to a patient’s mechanical heart implant and can be carried in a special backpack or over-the-shoulder bag. The pump – which comes with a built-in motor, heart monitor and rechargeable batteries – allows patients to stay active at home or away as they wait for a heart transplant.

“It’s mind-blowing how technology has advanced to create new possibilities for patients with end-stage heart disease,” said Dr. I-wen Wang, M.D., Ph.D, a cardiothoracic surgeon at IU Health Methodist Hospital who specializes in heart and lung transplantation and ventricular-assist devices. “It’s like when mobile phones first came out and were the size of a brick. Now, mobile phones are palm-sized computers that weigh less than a deck of cards. Heart-assist devices have evolved in a similar fashion, becoming both smaller and more powerful—all for the benefit of patients.”

Although the Freedom® Portable Driver is currently limited to investigational use in the United States, it has been used in 81 patients nationwide—58 of whom have been discharged home from the hospital. O’Hara became patient number 59.

Next steps
Now that O'Hara is home and no longer needs a wheelchair or a cane, his next step is to begin his outpatient cardiac rehabilitation sessions in Fort Wayne. IU Health is training the rehabilitation team on how to work with O'Hara’s total artificial heart and mechanical pump.

“While I missed home, my ultimate hope is to return to the hospital soon so I can get a brand new human heart,” said O’Hara.

O’Hara’s doctors said his artificial heart, portable heart pump and increased physical activity have already helped him to regain strength and organ function—benefits that, according to recent studies, could potentially double his chance of survival if he receives a heart transplant.

A leader in heart surgery and organ transplantation
IU Health is home to the nation’s fourth largest solid-organ transplant center, according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. Last year, IU Health performed more adult and pediatric heart transplants combined than any other Indiana hospital system.

IU Health was able to acquire and use the SynCardia Total Artificial Heart and the Freedom® Portable Driver thanks to a $250,000 grant from Methodist Health Foundation and the work of the IU Health Methodist Research Institute.

By performing Indiana’s first implantation of the SynCardia Total Artificial Heart and first use of the Freedom® Portable Driver, IU Health continues to build upon its history of advances and innovation in cardiac surgery to benefit patients throughout the state and region. In 1982, surgeons at IU Health Methodist Hospital performed Indiana’s first human heart transplant. The hospital then implanted the state’s first ventricular assist device in 1985 and the first total artificial heart ("the Jarvik") in 1987.

About Indiana University Health
Named among the “Best Hospitals in America” by U.S. News & World Report for 16 consecutive years, Indiana University Health is dedicated to providing a unified standard of preeminent, patient-centered care. A unique partnership with Indiana University School of Medicine – one of the nation’s leading medical schools – gives our highly skilled physicians access to innovative treatments using the latest research and technology.

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