Twenty-five-year-old Stan Larkin survived an entire 555 days without a human heart, while awaiting a transplant. After being diagnosed with arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia (ARVD), a heart disease which can cause irregular heartbeats and can pose the risk of sudden heart attacks, it became clear that Larkin would require a heart transplant. With an extremely common O-positive blood type, Larkin was behind hundreds of other patients waiting for an available heart. Doctors informed him he was unlikely to survive until a transplant was available, unless they were able to improve his situation.

The first measure was to hook Stan up to “Big Blue”, in November of 2014. Big Blue is essentially a 418-pound self-regulating air pump, used as an interim solution for patients awaiting a heart transplant. Cone shaped valves stand in for both ventricles, and the machine regulates its own air flow. This kept Stan alive, but relegated him to live bedridden in the hospital.

Earlier in 2014, the FDA approved a portable version of the machine. This version is able to perform the same functions as “Big Blue”, while weighing only 13 and a half pounds. This portable version comes with batteries and can also be plugged into a wall outlet. It fits in a backpack or shoulder pack, and displays vital information on a display panel. On Christmas of 2014, Stan Larkin was switched to this light and portable version of the pump.

After getting used to logistical adjustments, like carrying extra bags around, the round the clock noise of the artificial heartbeat, and careful bathing, Stan was able to live a much more fulfilling lifestyle than if he was in the hospital attached to “Big Blue”. He even played some basketball with his artificial heart – an activity that could have endangered his original heart – and was not bound to his home or to the hospital. He finally received his transplant last month, at the University of Michigan, after living 555 days without a human heart.

ARVD is a genetic condition, and Larkin’s younger brother Domonique was soon also diagnosed with it. Domonique also used the portable device for four days before receiving a heart transplant. Dominque lost one of his own children to ARVD. ARVD occurs in about one in 5,000 people, sometimes with no family history. ARVD is one of the most common causes of sudden death in athletic and otherwise healthy young adults.

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