TUCSON, Ariz., Feb. 25, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- A Newport News, Va., mom and her adult son each had heart problems that started in their early 30s, resulting in the need to receive donor heart transplants in order to live. Because time was of the essence and no donor hearts were available, they each had SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart implants to save them from end-stage biventricular heart failure and provide a bridge to heart transplants.
While both had dilated cardiomyopathy, says cardiologist Dr. Keyur Shah, M.D., assistant professor with VCU Medical Center's Pauley Heart Center, Diane Kurtyka managed her condition with medication for 18 years. Albert, on the other hand, had sudden symptoms that urgently required a SynCardia Total Artificial Heart implant.
During those 18 years, Diane, 60, lived a normal life raising her three children with her husband, Carey. In April 2011, she began experiencing fluid retention. Her local hospital thought she had a gall bladder problem, but suggested she go to VCU Medical Center for evaluation.
"Right away they knew it was my heart," she recalls of VCU's team of cardiac doctors, including Dr. Daniel Tang, M.D., assistant professor of surgery; Dr. Vigneshwar Kasirajan, chairman, of VCU's Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, and Dr. Shah.
Her heart's left ventricle had failed and surgeons implanted a left ventricle assist device (LVAD) to support the blood flow her body needed, but which her ventricle could no longer provide. "I thought I'd stay on the LVAD until I got my heart transplant," Diane says.
Five months later, complications developed with the LVAD and her heart's right ventricle began to fail. On Sept. 20, 2011, surgeons removed the LVAD and implanted a SynCardia Heart, which, like a donor heart transplant, replaces the two ventricles and four heart valves.
"I was scared that she was not going to be here," says Carey. "The SynCardia Total Artificial Heart saved her life."
Weighing 160 grams, the SynCardia Total Artificial Heart provides blood flow of up to 9.5 liters per minute through each ventricle. Like a human donor heart, the SynCardia Heart is the only device that eliminates the source and symptoms of end-stage heart failure.
"I felt better waking up with the SynCardia Heart than the LVAD," Diane says. "I was able to do things sooner. It made me feel stronger." She exercised and walked regularly and her family visited with her almost every day. She received her donor heart early January 2012.
Twenty months later, the Kurtykas' son, Albert, 34, began experiencing shortness of breath and tiredness while doing everyday things like walking up stairs or carry his youngest of three children, Ava, a preschooler. "My heart was failing, but at the time I didn't recognize the symptoms," says Albert.
Although Albert had felt healthy until then, his heart was suffering from the same dilated cardiomyopathy as his mother's, says Dr. Shah.
By December it was clear he would need a SynCardia Total Artificial Heart implant, too. His health deteriorated so rapidly that his surgery was moved up from a Monday to Friday night because vital organs were failing, says Dr. Shah. "I couldn't talk with him because there was not enough blood flow to his brain," says his wife, Leora.
This time the decision to implant the SynCardia Heart was not a time of fear, but one of hope. "We were beginning the process of saving his life," says Leora.
On Dec. 20, 2013, Albert became the 75th implant patient at VCU Medical Center, which is one of the leading SynCardia Certified Centers. There are 97 certified centers worldwide with 39 others in the process of certification.
"It was a big comfort seeing what my mom went through," Albert says. "When I woke up and heard my SynCardia Total Artificial Heart, I knew I was alive and I was reassured."
Albert received his donor heart in January 2014 and was home 12 days later. He attributes the quick recovery to the SynCardia Heart. "It got my other organs up to speed. The Total Artificial Heart lifted my whole body and I got to exercise. When I got my donor heart, I was ready to rock and roll."
Diane and Albert want to publicly tell their stories in the hopes it would help others. Diane works to get more people to sign up as organ donors. Albert hopes to work with other SynCardia Heart implant patients who are his age and who sometimes need emotional support as they wait for their heart transplants.
Dr. Shah also has a message he wants to spread. "If a close family member suffers from heart problems, it's a good idea for other family members to get evaluated and screened by their primary care physician or a cardiologist," he advises. "This is especially true if they show any signs of heart failure such as shortness of breath or unexplained fatigue."
Watch Diane and Albert Kurtyka talk about their experience with heart failure.
Read VCU Medical Center's story on the Kurtykas.
About the SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart
SynCardia Systems, Inc. (Tucson, AZ) is the privately-held manufacturer of the world's first and only FDA, Health Canada and CE approved Total Artificial Heart.
SOURCE SynCardia Systems, Inc.