21-year-old receives Arkansas's first ever Total Artificial Heart transplant

Syncardia Total Artificial Heart (Photo: Baptist Hospital)

Chadarius Johnson has been on the heart transplant waiting list since January. When Johnson's health took a turn for the worse, it forced doctors to attempt a first of its kind surgery in Arkansas, that appears so far to be working.

Johnson, who goes by "Chad", was excelling as an athlete in Jonesboro when it became evident his heart couldn't handle the hustle.

"He had a sudden death episode where he collapsed when he was playing basketball," said Dr. John Ransom, surgical director at Baptist Hospital's Transplant Institute. "He was seen and treated somewhat, and he decided he could continue to play basketball - but he had another episode."

Johnson's second near-death episode would end up taking him to Baptist Hospital in Little Rock to await a heart transplant. Dr. Ransom said Johnson has been waiting for a donor heart ever since.

"He's a large guy and has type O blood," said Ransom. "It makes it more difficult for us to get a heart for him."

Ransom said just weeks ago, Johnson was practically knocking on death's door - other organs were beginning to fail as well. Johnson's health became a life-or-death situation, forcing doctors to try something new.

"Without a donor heart we had no other options - until this Total Artificial Heart system," said Dr. Ransom.

The Total Artificial Heart is a device designed to replace the heart, while buying patients like Johnson more time while a donor heart is located. Tubes connect the device that's implanted inside the chest to a machine that pumps and oxygenates the blood outside the body.

While roughly 1,700 Total Artificial Hearts have been implanted around the world, Johnson was the first to receive the device in Arkansas.

"He's done very well, we've been very pleased," commented Ransom, now hopeful Johnson will continue to improve until a suitable heart can be found.

Ransom said a handful of patients die every year awaiting a complete heart transplant. He said this new technology could help extend lives of people who are still waiting for the right heart. Unfortunately the number of people with advanced heart failure is increasing, yet the number of donor hearts remains the same, according to Ransom.

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