Arizona man living life on his terms with a newly-approved devic - KCTV5

Arizona man living life on his terms with a newly-approved device that powers his mechanical heart

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - A Tucson company is taking another huge stride in changing lives and in saving them.

SynCardia makes the SynCardia Total Artificial Heart.

It just won FDA approval for its portable driver to power the heart.

The appropriately named Freedom portable driver gives people with mechanical hearts the freedom to leave the hospital and live more normal lives while they wait for their heart transplants.

The portable driver also means thousands and thousands of dollars in hospital cost savings.

The Freedom driver allows patients to go home, go back to work, live their lives and prepare for the day they get a donor heart.

We went to meet an artificial heart patient at University of Arizona Medical Center where doctors perform the surgeries.

What we saw was two men going through a mixed martial arts workout, wearing each other out.

There were the sounds of the rigorous training, and something else.

It was the steady rhythm of a Freedom portable driver powering the artificial heart in the chest of 44-year-old Christopher Larsen.

The driver is in a backpack that Christopher can carry or pull along on a cart.

He got the Freedom driver about a year ago when it was still being studied.

Tomorrow it will be exactly one year since Christopher got his mechanical heart.

He needed it after a virus attacked his own heart, causing it to fail.

However, at first, the husband and father of a young son says he didn't want to wither in a bed, attached to some artificial device.

"I told them at the time--I said just let me die," Christopher says he told his doctors.

Then a series of events happened, and his wife spoke to him.

"She said, 'Do it for me.' So I said OK. For you I'll do it. I'll do it for you," Christopher says.

Christopher had an option that earlier artificial heart patients did not.

The Freedom portable driver.

Previously, patients had to stay hooked up to Big Blue, a 400 pound machine that powers the heart.

It meant patients had to stay in the hospital until a donor heart became available.

In some cases, that was many many months.

However, Christopher is not tethered to Big Blue.

He got his Freedom driver with its portable batteries, and took off right then and there.

"Went to the main entrance, walked outside, walked back in, walked back to my room. I was excited," he says.

Christopher needed to feel that freedom, to be mentally strong and to regain his physical strength to be ready for his donor heart.

"Once that special gift is available, and then I want to be able to go through that surgery at full strength," Christopher says.

The Freedom driver has been available in Europe for about four years.

UAMC Artificial Heart Program Director Rich Smith says with it, patients work and they play.

"You know they're flying. They go on vacation. They're driving. They're doing all the things. They're on skateboards. They're on motor bikes," Smith says.

In other words, they have the freedom to live and gain the mental strength that will help them recover after their heart transplants.

Christopher tears up as he explains, "The Bible says--it says choose life or death, but choose life. To me, I know what that means."

Christopher’s workout partner is Dominic Alexander, a senior clinical engineer in the UAMC Artificial Heart Program.

Dominic watches Christopher carefully as they go through Christopher’s cardiac rehab program, preparing for the day he gets his donor heart.

So far, the longest anyone has waited for a donor heart while using the SynCardia Total Artificial Heart and the Freedom portable driver is three years.

That was in Europe.

In addition to running UAMC's Artificial Heart Program, Rich Smith is also an engineer.

He says the next steps will be to make the Freedom portable driver quieter and smaller.

It now weighs about 13-and-a-half pounds.

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