Life without Limits:
SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart Recipient Trains for Transplant Games
Dedicating his efforts to his heart donor’s family, Johnny Lemucchi is walking/running up to 10 miles per day and riding 125 miles per week.
- Johnny Lemucchi, 56, was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy after suffering a “widowmaker” heart attack.
- When he went into cardiac arrest a few weeks later, he was in desperate need of a heart transplant, but a donor heart wasn’t available.
- To save his life, doctors implanted the SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart as a bridge to transplant.
- Lemucchi was discharged from the hospital to wait for a matching donor heart at home, and after 203 days of support, received a heart transplant.
Sept. 26, 2017 – Johnny Lemucchi, 56, has been a collegiate and high school soccer referee for the past 34 years, but in 2016, was nearly sidelined by heart failure.
Fortunately, 203 days of life with the SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart helped ensure that he was strong and healthy when a donor heart finally became available last August.
“The Total Artificial Heart is definitely a lifesaver,” said Lemucchi, who celebrated the one-year anniversary of his heart transplant on Aug. 22. “I felt 100 percent. I could’ve refereed soccer I felt so good. If you need it, do it, no hesitation. With hospice, you know the end is coming; with the Total Artificial Heart, you know the future is coming.”
Now, Lemucchi is taking on a new challenge: training to compete in the 2018 Donate Life Transplant Games.
Used to running up and down the soccer field with 19- and 20-year-olds, Lemucchi is now riding his bike 125 miles a week and walking/running up to 10 miles a day. Planning to compete in cycling and golf, Lemucchi says his motivation is his heart donor's family, who recently accepted the letter he wrote them, and whom he hopes to meet one day.
“There are no words I can say to thank them,” said Lemucchi. “They lost their 22-year-old son. Everything I’m doing, I’m doing for them. I really hope to meet them, so I can let them know that their son is still alive in me, so they can feel his heart beat.”
Lemucchi was first diagnosed with heart failure after an echocardiogram (EKG) revealed he was having a heart attack known as a “widowmaker”. A subsequent angiogram showed that his ejection fraction—the percentage of blood leaving his heart each time it contracts—was only 14 percent. A normal ejection fraction is between 55 and 70 percent.
Doctors tried a number of interventions to treat Lemucchi’s heart failure, including stents and an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), but a few weeks later, he went into cardiac arrest. He was immediately placed on the heart transplant waiting list, but doctors feared he wouldn’t survive long enough to receive one. With his condition dire, doctors approached Lemucchi and his family about the SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart.
“I knew that I needed a transplant,” said Lemucchi. “I said, ‘If it’s going to keep me alive, I’m for it 100 percent.’”
On Feb. 1, 2016, doctors at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles removed Lemucchi’s failing, damaged heart and replaced it with the SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart, restoring blood flow to his body and allowing him to begin his recovery from heart failure.
Just a few weeks later, Lemucchi was stable enough to be switched to the Freedom® portable driver—a mobile power supply for the Total Artificial Heart—and discharged from the hospital to wait for a matching donor heart at home.
“I came home and I continued my life,” said Lemucchi, who watched his sons graduate from high school and college while on the Total Artificial Heart. “I played golf, did yard work, lifted weights. I walked 2 to 3 miles per day. The Freedom driver wasn’t an inconvenience to me because I knew what it meant. Without this machine, I wouldn’t be here. I was proud of it. It was part of my life.”
Six months later, Lemucchi received the heart transplant he’d been waiting for. Since then, he’s become a grandfather - a milestone he wasn’t sure he’d live to see not so long ago. In addition, Lemucchi plans to return to the soccer field as a referee this fall.
About SynCardia Systems, LLC
SynCardia Systems, LLC in Tucson, Ariz., is the privately-held manufacturer of the world's first and only FDA, Health Canada and CE approved Total Artificial Heart. For people suffering from end-stage heart failure affecting both sides of the heart (biventricular failure), the SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart is used as a bridge to transplant, helping them survive until a matching donor heart becomes available. SynCardia also manufactures the Freedom® portable driver, which powers the temporary Total Artificial Heart and allows clinically stable patients to be discharged from the hospital to enjoy life at home while they wait for a heart transplant.
Janelle Drumwright, email@example.com, (520) 547-7463