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Phoenix man with artificial heart meets doctors who saved his life

Posted at 6:07 PM, Sep 25, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-25 22:35:51-04

Right now, nearly 4,000 people nationwide are waiting for a life-saving heart transplant.

In Arizona, 39 people are waiting. For those on the list, the wait can be long and some patients need more immediate action. 

Trent Lunsford is one of those patients. Just a few months ago, Trent, who's only 47, was diagnosed with heart failure. In a matter of months he went from being fine to needing a new heart.

"One moment everything is normal, the next moment is chaos," said Trent. 

Today he's hooked up to a portable machine in a backpack. He calls it Thumper. It's powered by batteries and is pumping blood through his body. Inside, his actual heart was replaced with plastic valves held together by Velcro.

"Essentially this gentleman has no heart," said Dr. Radha Gopalan. "He has an artificial heart."

Doctor Gopalan helps head-up the cardiology team at Banner University Heart Institute in Phoenix. Trent was the facility's first patient to receive a fully artificial heart. Such a procedure is the last resort for doctors trying to save a patient.

"When we put it in, usually when they have about 24-48 hours of life left," said Dr. Francisco Arabia.

Doctor Arabia is also part of the cardiology team at Banner but he's also one of only four doctors in the world certified to teach other doctors how to implant artificial hearts. He says there aren't enough organ donations to meet the need, making improving the technology of entirely artificial hearts a priority.

For Trent, he never expected life to bring him here - meeting the doctors who saved his life. He says the journey has certainly changed his perspective.

"Everything in my life I look at it differently," said Trent. "I'm thankful to be here. I still have my wife. I still have my life. What more could I ask for?"