Robert “Bob” Coyle, a successful Hollywood set construction supervisor in Los Angeles, was in and out of hospitals for close to two decades trying to manage his heart failure. Finally, when all other treatments failed, he turned to the SynCardia Total Artificial Heart (TAH-t) to save his life.
Since the late 1990s, Coyle, now 53, a Southern California native who lives in West Hills, lived with cardiomyopathy, in which the heart muscles become enlarged, thick or rigid. He eventually also developed atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter, which are abnormal heartbeats. These conditions increase the risk of stroke and heart failure.
Over time, doctors implanted five types of pacemakers/defibrillators to help manage his conditions. He took medication and was told to lose 50 pounds. Within a year of eating healthier and exercising, the former water polo player was swimming a mile a day, regularly bicycling and lost 100 pounds.
But even though Coyle was doing all the right things, by 2012 his condition worsened. He had a hard time breathing, so much so that he could no longer swim for exercise. His lungs continually filled with fluid. He couldn’t sleep lying down. He slept on a recliner so he could breathe.
“I basically was drowning,” says Coyle. “I know exactly what a fish feels like when you pull him out of the water and he’s gasping for breath.”
He mentally felt less sharp, his senses seemed dull and he was always exhausted.
In February 2013, Coyle’s heart began to fail rapidly and he was admitted to Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute. His heart ejection fraction — a measure of how much blood is pumped into the body — was already low at 45 percent (around 65 percent is normal). After he was admitted, it sank to 28 percent and then to 17 percent within a week.
Coyle was put on the waiting list for a donor heart. When his kidneys began to fail, surgeons approached him about using the SynCardia TAH-t as a bridge to a donor heart transplant.
Like a heart transplant, the TAH-t is the only approved device that eliminates the source of end-stage biventricular (both sides) heart failure, a fatal condition in which the native heart’s two ventricles can no longer pump enough blood for the patient to survive. It’s used for the sickest patients when other treatments prove inadequate and a donor heart is not immediately available.
“It wasn’t a hard decision because it was either having a bridge to transplant or not be here,” said Coyle. After talking with his wife, Cheree, and his brother, Jim, about the procedure, “I told doctors to sign me up. I just put it in the Lord’s hands.” He received the artifical heart on April 26, 2013.
“When I woke up from surgery, I felt so good,” Coyle describes his recovery. “Ten minutes later I got up and walked around. My hearing and eyesight were so much better. I could breathe again.”
In May 2013, after becoming clinically stable, Coyle received the Freedom portable driver. The 13.5-pound driver can be carried in a backpack, shoulder bag or small cart. It gives heart patients mobility and allows them to wait for a matching donor heart at home and in their community.
After Coyle was discharged from the hospital, he got right to work. “I’m not one to sit around watching TV and eating bonbons,” he says. “I was able to do so much with the SynCardia Heart.”
He volunteered as a handyman at the school where Cheree is a physical education teacher. He put together furniture, fixed gym equipment and installed shelving. At home, he tiled the floor of the entire house, hung doors, installed crown molding and painted walls.
Coyle went trap shooting with friends, shot handguns at the range and hunted doves on overnight trips to Bakersfield. He brought along extra batteries to keep his Freedom portable driver running during these outdoor activities.
He and Cheree took several road trips between Los Angeles to Arizona. They watched their daughter, Cheyenne, play softball at Arizona State University, where she tied a homerun record with 20. They attended her graduation in Tempe and visited one of their sons, Bobby, who was attending the University of Arizona (U of A) in Tucson. Their other son, Luke, is working toward a career in law enforcement.
Coyle says he wasn’t slowed down by the SynCardia Heart, which he used for 663 days. But he admits he felt great when he finally received word that a matching donor heart and kidney were available. He received the transplants February 18, 2015. “I was ready,” he says. “I said my prayers and asked the good Lord to look over my family.”
Coyles Visit SynCardia
In May 2016, Bob and Cheree took another road trip, this time with his donor heart, to attend Bobby’s graduation from the U of A. Tucson is the worldwide headquarters of SynCardia Systems, Inc.
The Coyles enjoyed a special tour of the manufacturing facilities. All SynCardia employees were treated to over an hour of questions and answers with Coyle, who wowed everyone with his stories of beating heart failure with the SynCardia Heart.
“It was a visit I felt I had to make,” explains Bob Coyle. “I wanted to thank SynCardia. Without this device and the skilled engineers and designers, I’d be dead and I’d be missing out on a lot of cool things. Everyone at SynCardia are my guardian angels.”