The Main Stream

Feb 10, 2011 6:35 PM

Tucsonan is first woman in U.S. to power artificial heart portably

TUCSON - A 21-year-old in Tucson is the fifth person and first woman in the country to use a portable machine to power her artificial heart while she awaits a transplant.

Marcela Padilla walked out of University Medical Center on January 20 with nothing more than a backpack slung over her shoulder - inside was the Freedom Portable Driver, powering the SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart implanted in her chest last September.

"Up until now if you had biventricular failure - the failure of both sides of your heart - and your only option was the Total Artificial Heart, you knew you were stuck in the hospital until we could find you a matching donor heart,'' said Dr. Cristina Smith, who implanted Padilla's Total Artificial Heart.

Until recently, patients were tethered to "Big Blue," a 418-pound machine powering the heart, until a transplant was located - which took an average of 144 days in 2009.

"What we're really hoping is down the road this can be an option for people who are walking that fine line between being a transplant candidate and not being a transplant candidate because their organs are starting to fail,'' she said. "There are people who get to us a little too late. People can be on this a couple of months to improve organ function.

Padilla is now able to spend time at home with her months-old son, Santiago. After he was born, Padilla was diagnosed with idiopathic cardiopyopathy, and medication was not doing enough to save her weakened heart.

"We held off as long as we could but it was clear she was going to have worsening organ failure to a point where we would never be able to transplant her,'' Dr. Smith said.

In December, Padilla was switched to the portable power device, and on January 20, she got the okay from doctors to return home, where she can stay until a donor heart is found.

"I feel really good now and I can do more,'' Padilla said. "I can take care of my son.''

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