NEW ORLEANS – Forty-one-year old Baton Rouge native Alfred Williams didn’t think he would get a second chance at life. At death’s door, he underwent a groundbreaking procedure at the John Ochsner Heart & Vascular Institute (JOHVI) at Ochsner Medical Center, becoming the first patient in the Gulf South Region to receive the SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart (TAH) implant. Today, he has a new outlook on life with one goal in mind – to attend the high school graduation of his youngest daughter in May.
An experienced truck driver, Alfred pulled over to the side of the road one day after what he describes as a “funny feeling” and trouble breathing. He immediately dialed 911 and by the time help arrived, he was seizing and receiving limited oxygen to his brain. Alfred was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, or an enlarged heart, which had escalated to bi-ventricular heart failure.
In December 2012, Alfred was admitted to Ochsner Medical Center and he had exhausted all medical therapy options. Bedridden for months and unable to walk, Alfred was looking at hospice care as the last resort.
“They told me I couldn’t wait another two months for the procedure,” said Alfred before the surgery. “I feel better knowing that I’m in good hands…I have the best team possible.”
“Luckily, Alfred qualified for the Total Artificial Heart,” said Hector Ventura, MD, Section Head, Heart Failure and Transplantation, Ochsner Medical Center. “This device serves as a bridge to transplant which would buy him the time he needs to rehabilitate while waiting on an organ transplant.”
On February 21, 2013, the talented team of physicians, nurses and medical professionals at Ochsner implanted the first Total Artificial Heart in the Gulf South Region. Led by Dr. Aditya Bansal, Cardiothoracic Surgery, John Ochsner Heart & Vascular Institute, the nearly eight-hour surgery saved Alfred’s life.
The SynCardia Total Artificial Heart consists of two biocompatible pumping chambers (ventricles) and four valves, the same components as a real human heart. After connecting Alfred to a heart-lung bypass machine, Bansal removed the diseased heart. Next, he sewed in four quick connects to the main blood vessels and attached the two artificial ventricles. The device is operated by an external power supply connected by two drivelines that exit below the rib cage. Once the Total Artificial Heart and drivelines were connected, the team took Alfred off the bypass machine and the new mechanical heart took over, pumping blood to his vital organs.
Within two weeks after surgery, Alfred was out of bed and walking around the ICU.
“It’s been a struggle, but the fight isn’t over,” admits Alfred. “Now I’m walking around and feel better every day.”
“This is a guy who didn’t walk for three months before his implantation. Now he is walking all over the ICU,” said Bansal. “It is a feeling of satisfaction and that as a group, we’ve made a difference – we’ve changed his life.”
Nearly eight weeks later, Alfred is on the transplant list in hopes of receiving a matching donor heart and is an advocate for organ donation.
“I’m in a situation where I need an organ,” said Alfred. “I’ve encouraged my wife and my kids to become donors and I plan on registering when I’m out of the hospital.”
“Every day we see Alfred making progress. I had the privilege of working with an excellent team who had only one objective behind it – success for this patient,” said Bansal. “I think we have continued the legacy of Dr. John Ochsner and have always embraced the latest technology for our patients’ best care.”
“If it wasn’t for the Ochsner team, I probably wouldn’t have made it,” explains Alfred. “They took care of me and I’m determined to get better. I have to show them love because they helped me through this fight. I thank each and every one of them who was a part of this.”
From Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle, Ochsner is the only provider to offer this technology and is one of only 42 sites in the United States certified to implant the Total Artificial Heart.
“Ochsner has a history of innovation…. it’s a testimony to what we do,” said Ventura. “A new technology with an old principle that will hopefully help people who need both ventricles replaced. We made a contribution in cardiovascular disease, heart failure, heart transplant and mechanical devices that is second to none.”
The John Ochsner Heart and Vascular Institute has received numerous accolades. U.S. News & World Report named Ochsner Medical Center’s Cardiology and Heart Surgery departments among the top 20 across the country in its 2012-13 Best Hospitals rankings. Additionally, Healthgrades ranked Ochsner #1 in Louisiana for Overall Cardiac Services, Cardiology Services and Coronary Interventional Procedures.
On January 9, 1970, Dr. John Ochsner performed the first heart transplant in the Gulf South, and JOHVI has since performed over 800 heart transplants.
For more information visit, www.ochsner.org/TotalArtificialHeart or call 504-842-3925.
Ochsner Health System is southeast Louisiana’s largest non-profit, academic, multi-specialty, healthcare delivery system with eight hospitals and 38 health centers in Louisiana. Ochsner has been named the Consumer Choice for Healthcare in New Orleans for 17 consecutive years and is the only Louisiana hospital recognized by U.S. News & World Report as a “Best Hospital” across 11 specialty categories. Ochsner employs more than 13,000 employees, over 850 physicians in over 90 medical specialties and subspecialties and conducts over 300 clinical research trials annually. Ochsner Health System is proud to be a tobacco-free environment. For more information, please visit ochsner.org and follow us on Twitter and Facebook.