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Last updated on April 18, 2014 at 17:24 EDT

“Put Down the BBQ Ribs, We’Ve Found You a Donor Heart,” Nurse Tells Patient

October 8, 2008

After a six-year battle with heart disease that included numerous medications, trips to the emergency room and surgery to implant a pacemaker, 40-year-old Jim Fijalkovich found himself in the Intensive Care Unit at an Ohio hospital. Both sides of his heart were dying and he was in desperate need of a transplant.

“I swelled up like a grapefruit because my heart wasn’t pumping enough blood. My kidneys and liver had started shutting down,” explained Jim. “The doctors said my only options were to receive an immediate heart transplant or, if a matching donor heart couldn’t be found, a CardioWest(TM) temporary Total Artificial Heart.”

Doctors implanted Jim with the CardioWest artificial heart on May 26, 2008. After two months of life with the artificial heart, Jim, who was once hours from death, got the news he’d been waiting for.

“I had been really good about following the strict hospital diet, but a buddy of mine called me and offered me anything I wanted to eat,” said Jim. “I told him, ‘Heck yeah! Bring me a slab of ribs from Hot Sauce Williams.’ No sooner did I get done sucking the meat off the last bone, my nurse runs in and tells me, ‘Put down the BBQ ribs! We’ve found you a donor heart!’”

Before his transplant, Jim had been walking three miles a day with his artificial heart, two on the treadmill and one around the hospital floor. The artificial heart combined with diet and exercise helped make him a healthier transplant candidate.

“Before I got transplanted, I was pushing 450-lb ‘Big Blue’ for one or two laps around the hospital each day,” said Jim. “It was easy, a piece of cake. I wasn’t even out of breath.”

After his heart transplant, Jim couldn’t wait to get back on his motorcycle. On Sept. 3, Jim was cleared by his doctors to take a road trip with his 9-year-old son, Jesse.

“Now we can go back to doing stuff together like we did before my dad’s heart got sick,” said Jesse.

“I cannot explain the gift the CardioWest artificial heart has given me to have more time with my son,” said Jim. “It saved my life and kept me going for 59 days while they found me a new heart. Today, I feel like the six million dollar man.”

Originally designed as a permanent replacement heart, the CardioWest artificial heart is currently approved as a bridge to human heart transplant for patients dying from end stage biventricular failure.

The CardioWest artificial heart is the first and only FDA, Health Canada and CE Mark approved temporary Total Artificial Heart in the world. There have been more than 750 implants of the CardioWest artificial heart, accounting for more than 140 patient years of life on the device.