Not even a broken heart could stop Stan Larkin’s from determination to once again do the things he loves: spending time with his children and playing a few games of pick up ball. But Larkin wasn’t exactly missing love from his life or longing for the woman of his dreams. After collapsing on the basketball court at 16-years-old, doctors diagnosed the Ypsilanti, MI teen with arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia (ARVD), a condition that causes the heart to beat irregularly and put him at severe risk for cardiac arrest.
CNN reports that doctors initially placed a defibrillator which uses small electrical charges to help fix the irregular heartbeat in Larkin’s heart to aid in his condition. Unfortunately, while the device was in place, Larkin could no longer engage in any strenuous activity, including playing basketball which he loved. To add insult to injury, his brother Dominique was later found to suffer from the condition as well.
As time continued, Larkin’s condition worsened and doctors decided he would need a heart transplant. A defibrillator is useful when one side of the heart is weak, but unfortunately for Larkin both sides of his heart weren’t functioning as well as they should. Larkin continued to stay hopeful and determined, even when doctors revealed he’d have to wait in a long line of other patients who needed heart transplants.
In 2014, the brothers’ lives changed when they both were equipped with artificial heart devices. Dominique stayed in the hospital with his device for six weeks before receiving a transplant, but doctors found that Stan was a great candidate to live outside the hospital with a portable device. In fact, he would be the first patient to ever do so. The SynCardia temporary artificial heart replaced the father of three’s failing heart, including its chambers and four valves. Two tubes, exiting the left side of his body beneath the ribcage, connected the artificial heart to a 13-pound machine called the Freedom Driver. Larkin would be carrying his heart outside of his body in a backpack for the most part. Larkin says the device felt “like a real heart” and it took some time for him to get over the shock:
“I was shocked when the doctors started telling me that I could live without a heart in my body and that a machine was going to be my heart. Just think about it — a machine.”
“It’s just in a bag with tubes coming out of you, but other than that, it feels like a real heart. … It felt just like a backpack with books in it, like if you were going to school.”
Voncile McCrae assisted in helping her son change the bandages at the sites on his body that the tubes emerged from, although she admits at first she was a little scared of the machine and was extra careful to make sure he wouldn’t get an infection. Unlike the defibrillator, the portable device allowed Larkin to play with his children, play pick up ball and have fun with his friends.
Larkin’s real heart finally arrived in May, and he is now recovering from the transplant procedure at University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center and scheduled to go home as early as next week. Although he won’t have to wear his “backpack” anymore, Larkin makes it clear that he doesn’t regret the period of time he had his artificial heart:
“Most people would be scared to go so long with [an artificial heart], but I just want to tell them that you have to go through the fear, because it helps you. I’m going home so fast after the transplant because it helped me stay healthy before the transplant.”
According to the U.S. Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, at any given time, there are about 4,000 patients nationwide waiting for human heart transplants.