Patient at UW is first in Northwest to leave a hospital with an artificial heart

Christopher Marshall left the University of Washington Medical Center on Wednesday without a human heart. Instead, Marshall, 51, has an artificial heart in his chest with a power supply he carries around in a backpack.  

Marshall, who is from Wasilla, Alaska, has suffered from a condition known as cardiomyopathy since 1999.  He came to Seattle for a heart evaluation in January, where doctors determined his heart was failing and that he would not survive a flight back home.

The doctors decided to operate. During a six-hour procedure, surgeons removed two thirds of Marshall’s heart, including many pumping chambers and valves. They replaced it with the world’s only approved, totally artificial heart.

“It's going at a hundred-30 beats per minute pushing air out of there,” said Dr. Nahush Mokadam, co-director of heart transplantation at the UW Medical Center. “Which is helping that blood circulate around Chris. This simulates what our hearts do naturally, but is now required to do pneumatically.”

Within days of the surgery, Marshall, an instrument tech for an oil company, was walking the halls of the hospital.

“I walked four miles in the ward just the other day,” he said. “Last night i slacked off and only walked two and three quarter miles."

While in the hospital, patients with artificial haerts like Marshall’s must remain hooked up to a machine called a driver, which weighs more than 400 pounds. But Marshall was able to leave the hospital by using a much smaller battery-powered driver that is still in trials and has not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The artificial heart is not meant to be permanent. Marshall will stay in Seattle until a donor becomes available and he can undergo a transplant – which can be a years-long process. 

Meanwhile, Marshall (and his wife) will have to get used to the constant noise created by his new heart and the machine that powers it.

“I’m using earplugs at night,” Marshall said. “Now that I’m going home my wife is going to have to get used to it.”

The entire undertaking is also an expensive one: From the removal of his heart, to installation of the artificial one, to eventually, a transplant, it could cost almost a million dollars.