Home Is Where the Heart Is

Lumpkins’ one wish was to see her 19-year-old son, Eddie, graduate from college in December, but doctors said her heart would not last that long. She needed a new heart and fast.

She found one at USC. It’s made of plastic.

The Modesto resident received a total artificial heart at Keck Hospital of USC in September, and, on Nov. 9, she became the first person on the West Coast to go home with one.

Patients who are implanted with total artificial hearts like Lumpkins’ typically have to stay in the hospital while they wait for a donor heart because the air compressor that keeps them pumping weighs more than 400 pounds. But a clinical trial headed by Michael Bowdish, assistant professor of surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, has changed all that.

Now the compressor weighs 13.5 pounds and can be carried in a backpack. The Freedom portable driver, manufactured by Tucson-based SynCardia Systems Inc., allows patients with a total artificial heart to leave the hospital and live a normal life at home while waiting for a donor heart. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is evaluating whether it can be used safely at home, and Bowdish felt that Lumpkins was the perfect candidate to try it out.

“Tammy had a very sick heart,” said Bowdish, director of mechanical circulatory support in the Department of Surgery at Keck Hospital and the USC Cardiovascular Thoracic Institute. “We felt that replacing her heart with an artificial one was the best therapy. She was going to die in the very near future if we didn’t do anything. And, clearly, it is psychologically good for her to go home. It has allowed her to very quickly recover.”

And recover she has. Since the surgery, Lumpkins now is able to walk without feeling fatigued and no longer needs to take medicine for her diabetes. She even has gone shopping for Christmas presents.

“I was getting pretty depressed that it wasn’t going to get fixed,” Lumpkins said. “Now there is hope. I’m actually looking forward to Christmas this year.”

Doctors plan to look for a donor heart after the holidays.

“Every day, we are performing miracles for the patients we serve, and nothing makes me happier than when we are able to share these amazing stories with the entire community,” said Mitch Creem, chief executive officer of Keck Hospital. “This was an important achievement by Dr. Michael Bowdish and his entire team, and we take pride in that.”

Bowdish applied for the Freedom driver clinical trial in September, when he knew that Lumpkins would qualify. The application was approved in less than eight weeks.

“This is what the faculty physicians of the Keck School of Medicine of USC do best,” said Carmen A. Puliafito, dean of the Keck School. “They test the boundaries of science, keeping USC at the forefront of medical research, saving lives and restoring hope.”

The artificial heart gives Lumpkins a second chance at life. And, for that, her entire family is grateful.

“It’s made me think about our future more than our past,” said Dale, Lumpkins’ husband of 22 years. “The important thing is that there is a future.”