College Student Dances Her Heart Out, Literally

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Dancer Mia Welch Bridged to Heart Transplant with SynCardia Total Artificial Heart

SynCardia, Total Artificial Heart, artificial heart, Mia Welch, Freedom driver, heart failure, heart transplant, donor heart, bridge to transplant

March 2010: Mia Welch, 21, dancing at Mesa Community College five months before she became ill from heart failure. She was bridged to a heart transplant with the SynCardia Total Artificial Heart on March 18, 2012.

It was scary because everything happened so fast, but I started feeling so much better. I went from really pale to having color in my cheeks again. My blood was moving, I could think straight.

Last fall, 21-year-old Mia Welch took the phrase “dancing your heart out” to a whole new level. It all began in summer 2010, when she was attending Mesa Community College and dancing 14 hours a week with the school’s summer dance company.

“During our summer showcase, every time I did a dance, I was exhausted, which wasn’t normal for me,” said Mia. “I had to walk around with my arms above my head, taking deep breaths. I was having a lot of pain in the right side of my ribs and it wasn’t going away. I figured it was just a muscle pull.”

A week later, when the pain hadn’t subsided, Mia went to the emergency room, but was turned away after being told “an ER is for life and death situations.”

A few weeks later, the pain had worsened, her appetite had disappeared and she could only sleep sitting upright. After a visit to a different emergency room, a CAT scan revealed that her heart was enlarged.

“I was in the hospital room by myself when my doctor came in and told me that my heart was failing,” said Mia. “It was the scariest thing I’ve ever heard… I thought, ‘I’m going to die.’ ”

Mia’s doctors immediately put her on medication hoping to reverse her heart failure because of her young age. However, over the next two months, Mia’s 5’5, 150-pound frame had shrunk by 50 pounds. In February 2011, she developed blood clots in her kidneys and was placed on blood thinners. That June, she was implanted with a defibrillator.

In October 2011, Mia had a right heart catheterization done to check the pressures in her heart. The results showed Mia’s heart had further deteriorated and she was admitted to the hospital. The doctors told her mother they needed to find her a donor heart by the next day, or else she would need a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) or the SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart to survive.

On Nov. 1, 2011, doctors removed Mia’s dying heart and replaced it with the Total Artificial Heart.

“It was scary because everything happened so fast, but I started feeling so much better,” said Mia. “I went from really pale to having color in my cheeks again. My blood was moving, I could think straight.”

By late November, Mia was using the hospital’s Dance Dance Revolution video game every day for an hour.

On Dec. 14, 2011, she was switched from the 400-pound “Big Blue” hospital driver that powered her Total Artificial Heart to the 13.5-pound Freedom® portable driver. With the Freedom driver, Mia was able to start practicing ballet again.

A few months later, on March 17, 2012, Mia was sitting in her hospital room with her boyfriend Corey when she saw a helicopter go past her window. She joked to him that it was her donor heart. Two hours later, her surgeon Dr. Francisco Arabia came in and told her they’d found a match for her.

“It’s amazing how fast I recovered from my heart transplant,” said Mia. “I left the hospital just nine days after the surgery. I’m very happy I had the Total Artificial Heart before I received my heart transplant because it made me so strong and healthy. If I’d just gone from my failing heart to a donor heart, it would’ve been a lot harder.”

The Freedom portable driver is the world’s first wearable power supply for the SynCardia Total Artificial Heart. The Freedom driver is CE approved for use in Europe and undergoing an Investigational Device Exemption (IDE) clinical study in the U.S. More than 80 patients worldwide have been supported by the Freedom driver, accounting for more than 30 patient years of support.

CAUTION – The Freedom® portable driver is an investigational device, limited by United States law to investigational use.

About the SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart
SynCardia Systems, Inc. (Tucson, AZ) is the privately-held manufacturer of the world’s first and only FDA, Health Canada and CE approved Total Artificial Heart. Originally used as a permanent replacement heart… read more

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Don Isaacs