Tennessee Couple's Nightmare Vacation Turns into a Life-Saving Journey, Thanks to the SynCardia Total Artificial Heart

Jack Jones Got His 2nd Chance at Life Because of the World's First and Only FDA, Health Canada and CE (Europe) Approved Total Artificial Heart

TUCSON, Ariz., Jan. 28, 2014 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Even though Greenbrier, Tenn., residents Jack and Mary Jones were 685 miles from home and on vacation, they soon learned that they were in the right place at the right time.

The husband, a farmer, and the wife, an accountant, were in Williamsburg, Va., July 21, 2013, on the first night of a road trip to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. That night Jack felt so uncomfortable he couldn't sleep. Over the last two years Jack had seen his regular doctor for a variety of complaints, including back, shoulder and chest pains, weakness, tiredness and night sweats. His physician told him he was fine and just getting older.

That July night, Mary drove Jack, 60, to a nearby hospital. Dropping him off at the emergency room (ER), Mary parked the car. Just as she was getting into the ER she was told that Jack had a heart attack and needed to immediately get to Sentara Heart Hospital 46 miles away. It floored her. "He went in walking and talking and he came out almost dead," she recalls.

Jack's regular doctor missed the signs of an earlier heart attack. With this second attack, Jack was suffering end-stage biventricular heart failure. Mary refused to be ushered into a waiting room as doctors at the hospital treated Jack with angioplasty and stents. An ambulance then rushed him to Sentara in Norfolk. The ambulance driver kept in close phone contact with Mary, who followed in her car, to assure her Jack was still alive.

Had the Joneses been at home, they would have had to drive at least two hours to get to a SynCardia Certified Center with cardiac surgeons specially trained to implant the SynCardia Heart. While there are 94 worldwide that are certified to implant the SynCardia Heart, none are in Tennessee.

Sentara's highly trained heart specialists first implanted a biventricular assist device (biVAD) to keep blood pumping while they assessed Jack's condition. It was clear his heart could no longer pump enough blood to sustain his life. 

"They told me the heart muscle was gone," Mary says. Only the SynCardia temporary Total Artificial Heart, as a bridge to transplant, could keep him alive and help get him into better condition for a donor heart transplant. She quickly agreed to the implant. "It was not a decision. It was the only choice I had. I know Jack wants to live."

On July 24, while surgeons were preparing to implant the SynCardia Heart, Mary visited another SynCardia Heart patient in the hospital. "He was talking and laughing and eating," Mary says. "It gave me hope where I wasn't sure I had any more. I thought if I could get Jack to this point, I would be so happy."

He spent his first days with a SynCardia Heart attached to a driver the size of a washing machine that powers the heart with preciously calibrated pulses of air and small amounts of vacuum. Later he was fitted with the Freedom® portable driver, a 13.5-pound wearable power supply that gave Jack much more mobility and independence.

With the ability to move about, Jack exercised two days a week at the hospital's cardiac rehab facility. On his days off, he and Mary walked around the hospital, grounds, explored the outdoors and spent time playing with a therapy dog—also named Jack. "He was my little buddy," Jack says.

Mary quit her job to remain at Jack's side. They visited with staff and other patients and watched movies in his room, which they decorated for Halloween and Mary's birthday. "It helped with the healing process with her being there," says Jack.

Finally, the news they had been waiting for arrived: Jack would get his donor heart transplant. Jack the therapy dog sat on Jack's lap as he rode in a wheelchair to the operating room. "Jack helped me stay calm and ready for my transplant," he says.

"The Total Artificial Heart did everything the doctors said it would do," says Mary. "And the Freedom driver let Jack do rehab before the transplant, so he did better with the transplant than he would have without the Freedom driver."

"I have different priorities now," says Jack. "I want to take some time to enjoy life."

Jack left the hospital Dec. 13. Today he feels he's improving every day. The couple plans to take the same trip they had started last summer. This time they're calling it their celebration of life.

›› See Video of Jack Jones as he prepares to leave Sentara Heart Hospital with his new heart
›› Read News Coverage of Jack Jones
›› View SynCardia Press Release
›› Learn More by Visiting SynCardia Online

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