McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

State House

October 18, 2010

Resident breaks new ground with portable artificial heart

OKLAHOMA CITY — Troy Golden doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve. He now wears it on his back.

Golden became the second person in the country to test out a portable total artificial heart when he was discharged Monday from Integris Baptist Medical Center. The Geary resident is being kept alive by a gray backpack containing an experimental device that replicates the cardiovascular functions of a heart.

“Just a couple weeks ago, I wasn’t able to get out of bed without a couple people’s help,” he said as he ended his three-month hospital stay. “So I’m ecstatic right now.”

Doctors removed Golden’s failing heart last month. The 45-year-old was born with a genetic condition called Marfan syndrome, which affects his heart and blood vessels.

The total artificial heart transplant surgery was the first to be performed in the region. The procedure replaced his heart with a 418-pound external unit that confined Golden to the hospital.

The large hospital driver, nicknamed “Big Blue,” can keep patients alive for years while they wait for a donor heart. But Dr. James Long, co-director of the hospital’s Advanced Cardiac Care Program, said Golden’s lack of mobility strained his health and mental well-being.

“We saw him for months laying in bed in the ICU just losing life,” Long said. “His spirit was just disappearing, so watching him stand here now and look like this is just spectacular.”

Earlier this month, a clinical study was approved to substitute the 418-pound unit with the 13.5-pound Freedom driver. The portable unit is stored in a backpack that can be worn or wheeled around. It is powered by two onboard lithium-ion batteries and can charged using standard electrical outlets or car adapters.

The only other person to test out the device is 43-year-old Charles Okeke, who was discharged in May from the Mayo Clinic in Arizona.

Golden, who is a nurse and minister at New Life Assembly of God church in Geary, said he understand the risks of pioneering new technology. However, he said the benefits outweigh the potential dangers.

“I can go be with my family and go back to preaching, which is what I love to do,” he said. “I’m no longer that short of breath, and I’m getting stronger every day so I think in a couple weeks I’ll be much more improved.”

He said being at home with his wife, children and dog would also make it easier while he waits the unknown amount of time for a donor heart to become available.

About 2,000 heart transplants are performed in the United States each year, and the average wait time for a donor heart is 144 days. The Integris cardiologists said the groundbreaking procedures should give patients new hope and improve their chances of survival.

Golden walked out of Integris’ main entrance along with his wife, Darrla, before they drove away. Darrla said it will be a relief to have her husband back.

“Just getting back to our house, furniture and bed, that is a celebration for us,” she said. “Just to get kind of normal again will be great.”


Trevor Brown covers the Oklahoma statehouse for CNHI. He can be reached at


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