Over the course of only about six months, a young heart patient who was given little hope of recovery, is alive and well and planning for the future.
"I had a widow-maker heart attack. I dropped dead on my office floor," said Richard Murphy. At the very moment his heart stopped, a customer trained in CPR was sitting on the opposite side of the desk.
Richard's main heart artery was completely blocked. Doctors opened it with a stent, but that got clogged too. He got two more stents, but his heart was already damaged beyond repair. Doctors also implanted a defibrillator and pacemaker before sending him home.
"You don't know what the future was going to hold. They said he wouldn't get out of bed again," Richard's wife Allison said.
Doctors weren't sure he'd survive, because a third of his heart no longer worked. It was like an overstretched balloon: the heart muscle was weak and thin. It didn't have enough strength to pump the blood to his body, making him short of breath and tired.
A heart transplant was out of reach. Richard and Allison were in search of a medical miracle.
"I really had no quality of life at all homebound," he says.
Then this former Army paratrooper would find help, in the form a "parachute" like no other.
Dr. Charles Lambert is chief cardiologist at Florida Hospital's Pepin Heart Institute. As Dr. Lambert shows us Richard's cardiac catheterization on his computer screen he explains, "This is really the first device of this kind, ever. It's a big device, and it's put in through a catheter -- a big catheter."
The Parachute, which looks like a coffee filter, is folded up inside a tube, or catheter, that's threaded in an artery in the groin. Using wires, the parachute makes it's way into the left side of Richard's failing heart.
When the parachute is released, tiny barbs along its edges attach to the heart wall to keep it in place.
"This part is squeezing. This part is not squeezing, and actually balloons out a bit," Dr. Lambert says. He tells us Richard's heart was so weak, it was in danger of rupturing. The Parachute adds another layer of protection.
Eventually cells will grow over the parachute allowing the device to incorporate itself into Richard's heart. Once that happens, he can stop the blood thinners he is now taking. The parachute will stay with him the rest of his life - keeping his blood flowing, reducing stress on the healthy part of the muscle.
"I didn't expect him to feel better right away. I was amazed he felt better immediately," Dr. Lambert says.
"It's a night and day difference in my attitude, in my ability to breath, and my whole outlook, I woke up this morning. I was so thankful to be sitting here with this device inside of me, and knowing that's it working. It's mind boggling really."
The difference so profound Richard's sealed it in ink. He showed us a new tattoo on his right upper arm. It reads: “born to lose - live to win.”
"The heart attack has changed everything about what I think and what I value," he says.
Richard is now back to work. He's also feeling stronger, and when he returned for his six-month checkup, he announced a surprise that shows how healthy he's become.
He and his wife are expecting a child.
“It's a blessing, we had wanted one,” Richard explained. “I had been so sick, we couldn't plan on anything like that. That just would've been wrong. It's nice to plan, and to know you are going to be around and live a fulfilled life.”
Dr. Lambert says the parachute is approved for use in Europe, but here in the U.S., you likely won't be able to buy it for another year and a half to two years.
For Richard and Allison, the Parachute is buying them precious time.
"We can look five to ten years down the road, instead of a year, and not know what was going to happen. At least we have a positive outlook," he says.
Thanks to a life-saver in the form of a parachute.
Florida Hospital Tampa
Pepin Heart Institute
Rare Disease: NIH
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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