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Bridge to Transplant & Beyond: Marcela Padilla

Bridge to Transplant and Beyond is a new series featuring people who were successfully bridged to transplant with the SynCardia Total Artificial Heart and are now several years post-transplant.

2011: Marcela Padilla was the first female Total Artificial Heart patient in the U.S. to be discharged home using the Freedom® portable driver. 2016: Marcela and her husband Jesus attend their son Santiago’s graduation from kindergarten. Marcela will celebrate her sixth anniversary with her donor heart in 2017.2011: Marcela Padilla was the first female Total Artificial Heart patient in the U.S. to be discharged home using the Freedom® portable driver.

2016: Marcela and her husband Jesus attend their son Santiago’s graduation from kindergarten. Marcela will celebrate her sixth anniversary with her donor heart in 2017.

On Jan. 30, 2017, we caught up with Marcela Padilla, 27. Marcela received the SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart on Sept. 24, 2010, and made headlines when she became the first woman in the U.S. to be discharged home using the Freedom® portable driver to power her Total Artificial Heart. She went on to receive her donor heart transplant after 245 days of support. This May, Marcela and her family will celebrate her sixth anniversary with her donor heart.

Marcela’s Story

Marcela, 20 at the time, gave birth to her son Santiago on April 25, 2010, but four days later, began to experience shortness of breath and fatigue. The pregnancy may have strained her heart, which was already weak due to a congenital condition, and she was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy. Her twin sister had received a heart transplant at age 11.

Total Artificial Heart Implant

Marcela was implanted with the SynCardia Total Artificial Heart on Sept. 24, 2010, at Banner – University Medical Center Tucson in Arizona (formerly known as University of Arizona Medical Center). Once stable, she was switched to the Freedom portable driver, which powers the Total Artificial Heart and can be worn in a backpack or shoulder bag.

Marcela and her family completed extensive training on use of the Freedom driver, which was undergoing an FDA-approved Investigational Device Exemption clinical study at the time (it received FDA approval in 2014). In January 2011, she was discharged from the hospital to enjoy life at home with her family while she waited for a matching donor heart.

Life at Home

Marcela returned home just in time to celebrate her 21st birthday with her family.

"It was so exciting to go home and be with my baby," said Marcela after being discharged. "I feel really good now and I can take care of my son."

Once home, Marcela didn’t let anything stop her from doing what she enjoyed most. Using the Freedom portable driver, she went to the mall, the Pima County Fair, the swap meet and the zoo, walked trails and even rode her bicycle.

“You never know when it’s going to be the last time,” she says. “The artificial heart was a second opportunity.”

Stat Snapshot:

  • Years with Donor Heart: 5+
  • Total Artificial Heart Implant: Sept. 24 2010
  • Heart Transplant: May 27, 2011
  • Length of Support: 245 days
  • Hospital: Banner – University Medical Center Tucson in AZ

Heart Transplant

After 245 days of support with the Total Artificial Heart, including 127 days at home with the Freedom driver, Marcela received the phone call she’d been waiting for: a donor heart was available. She returned to the hospital and received her heart transplant on May 27, 2011.

Life Today

Since her transplant, Marcela says her health is good and that she has had no issues with her donor heart.

“Physically, I feel much better,” she says. “I can do whatever I want. I can go hiking, I can go play with my son.”

On weekends, Marcela and her family enjoy going to the movies, exploring the outdoors, riding horses at her husband’s family ranch, going to the lake and barbecuing with her family. She says they are looking forward to taking their son to Disneyland, hopefully next spring.

“Before I had my transplant, sometimes I thought I wouldn’t have the opportunity to see my son grow up,” she says. “So now everything he does, it’s a special moment for me.”

On the anniversary of her transplant each year, Marcela and her family go out to dinner and attend mass, during which Marcela says she gives thanks to every person who helped her.

Advice for Others

“You can’t give up,” says Marcela. “There is a light at the end of the tunnel. You just have to go with it. What is most important is to not let anything stop you --- do what you enjoy.”

Closing Thoughts

“Now I have more opportunity to live my life to the fullest with no regrets. Everything I want to do, I do it. I don’t put it off until tomorrow.”

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