Living Without a Heart

(NECN/KING: Jean Enersen) - A man walked out of the University of Washington Medical Center Wednesday without a human heart last week.

Christopher Marshall is the first patient to be able to leave the hospital with a totally artificial heart.

For a man who's missing his heart, Marshall gets around quite well.

Back in January the Wasilla, Ala. resident had no idea this was in store for him.

"We came down here for a one day doctor consultation and then they said I'm too sick to fly home," said Marshall.

He was too sick to go anywhere.

"We thought he was an excellent candidate for transplantation, but really felt that his heart wasn't good enough to support him until the time an organ donor would be available," said Dr. Daniel Fishbein with the UW Medicine Heart Transplant Program.

The solution: An artificial heart -- a direct descendant of the model first used in Seattle area dentist Barney Clark -- the world's first artificial heart recipient back in 1982.

Instead of being tethered to a behemoth machine nicknamed big blue, Marshall is the first local patient to go portable with a device that looks an ordinary backpack except all that noise.

"Right now, I'm using earplugs at night and now that I'm going to go home, my wife is going to have to get used to it... so hopefully we'll get adapted to it," said Marshall.

But it's a good trade off.

"He can eat better, he can walk around [and] he's in good physical shape. When he gets to his transplant operation, he'll be in better physiological shape to undergo another major operation," said Dr. Nahush Mokadum.

He's already has surprised his doctors.

"Now, that I'm on the total artificial heart, I'm not having any shortness of breath... and I walked four miles the other day around the ward," said Marshall.

"For somebody to get through what he has had to get through, it's incredible to have an attitude like he does," said Marshall's wife, Kathy.

Marshall and his wife will be staying in the Seattle area until a donor heart comes through.

There's no time limit on how long he can stay on the artificial heart, but doctors prefer to do the transplant as soon as possible because there's always the danger of infection or other medical complications.

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