Randy Shepherd, Kept Alive for 10 Months by the SynCardia Total Artificial Heart Powered by the Freedom Portable Driver, Walked the April 26, 2014 Long-Distance Course Honoring Pat Tillman
Randy Shepherd’s 4.2-mile walk in Pat’s Run April 26, 2014, in the Phoenix area was more than a test of his endurance. It was part of his training for the most crucial event of his life—a heart transplant.
Last June 20, Shepherd, 40, had his life saved by the SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart, the world’s first and only FDA, Health Canada and CE approved Total Artificial Heart. His history-making walk as the first person without a human heart to enter and complete Pat’s Run also helped get him in better physical condition.
Doctors at the University of Arizona Medical Center in Tucson had to remove his heart, which was damaged twice by rheumatic fever in his teens and now could no longer support him. They replaced his dying heart with the SynCardia Total Artificial Heart as a bridge to transplant to a matching donor heart.
Like a heart transplant, the SynCardia Heart eliminates the source and symptoms of biventricular heart failure in which the two heart ventricles can no longer pump enough blood for a patient to survive.
“I feel like I’m in training right now,” says Shepherd, who lives in Mesa, Arizona. “I look at my heart transplant as an athletic event that I’m training for.”
Shepherd has been able to walk about half a mile most days since leaving the hospital, thanks to the Freedom® portable driver, which contains all of the electronics that operate the SynCardia Heart. The SynCardia Total Artificial Heart doesn’t require sensors, motors or electronics of any type inside the body. So there is never a need to re-operate to repair or replace faulty electronics.
Six days before Pat’s Run, he decided he wanted to give it a try. “I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone,” Shepherd says. “I wanted to prove that I could do it even though I’ve been handed circumstances that might not be the best.”
The 10th annual race through the streets of Tempe, Arizona honors Pat Tillman, a local college and professional football player who gave up his lucrative National Football League career to serve in the military. He was killed in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004.
After getting clearance from his doctors, Shepherd and his wife, Tiffany, joined twenty-eight thousand other participants in the race. Steve Langford, Director of Clinical Support at SynCardia, made the walk with them, which they completed in one hour and 40 minutes.
Shepherd carried in his backpack the 13.5-pound Freedom® portable driver, which gives SynCardia Heart patient’s nearly unlimited mobility. Langford carried a backup driver, which Randy ended up not needing.
The SynCardia Heart provides safe blood flow of up to 9.5 liters per minute through each heart ventricle. During exercise, increased muscle and body movement causes more blood to enter the ventricles. The ventricles can fill with up to 30% more blood for exercise and other heavier exertion.
During 30 years of use, the valves in the SynCardia Total Artificial Heart have never failed. The diaphragm, which is responsible for pumping blood in and out of the ventricles, has a failure rate of less than ½ of 1% over more than 1,300 implants (2,600+ diaphragms).
Life Before and With the SynCardia Heart
Sports and fitness have always been part of Shepherd’s life, even after his heart damage. He played semi-professional baseball for a year in Phoenix, participated in a slow-pitch softball league, lifted weights and shot bows and guns.
“I stayed in relatively good shape,” says Shepherd, an active, giving man devoted to his family and his church.
In 2009, Shepherd began suffering from fatigue, loss of appetite and a declining desire to do what he loved. “The doctor said, ‘You need a transplant. Your heart is completely done,’” he recalls.
According to data published in the New England Journal of Medicine1 from the 10-year pivotal clinical study which led to FDA approval of the Total Artificial Heart, 79% of patients who received the Total Artificial Heart were bridged to transplant. This is the highest bridge to transplant rate for any approved heart device in the world.
Doctors at University of Arizona Medical Center removed Shepherd’s failing heart and implanted the SynCardia Heart on June 20, 2013. Following surgery he was in a coma for eight days.
“We put it off longer than we should have,” Shepherd admits. “I was young and active, so we kind of underestimated my heart failure.”
Shepherd credits Tiffany for getting him through those first weeks of recovery, calming him during periods in and out of lucidness, running the household and working as a dental hygienist. “None of this would be possible without her,” he says.
On Aug. 7, 2013, Shepherd received the Freedom® portable driver. Since his hospital discharge, he’s been able to regularly attend church services, watch his now 7-year-old son play baseball and spend time with his two teenaged daughters.
He hopes his walk inspired others who also may have major health issues. “Don’t wait for those things to get better,” he says. “Enjoy life. Do what you want to do today.”