Total Artificial Heart patient is mobile and feeling well

A SynCardia Total Artificial Heart, like the one transplanted for Alfred Williams
A SynCardia Total Artificial Heart, like the one transplanted for Alfred Williams

A 41-year-old man is living and breathing with a heart made of plastic. Alfred Williams received the first Total Artificial Heart transplant in the Gulf South three months ago at Ochsner.

The technology was his only hope, and bought him some precious time. Now, he walks down the halls of Ochsner with a backpack he can't do without.

The pump inside keeps the artificial heart in his chest beating.

"It sounds like a couple of galloping horses," he said.

Cardiothoracic surgeon Aditya Bansal holds up models of the two man-made heart chambers.

"One of the right side and one of the left side and it gets connected to the main blood vessel of the heart," explains Dr. Bansal.

He explains why this was Alfred's only choice: "Both ventricles were not working properly as a result of that we had to start looking at other options."

Williams put it simply. "My heart was no good," he said. "I probably wouldn't have made it another two months in the condition I was in."

It was January 22, 2010 when Alfred first found out something was wrong with his heart. He was driving a big 18-wheeler for Advanced Building Products in Baton Rouge when he suddenly felt strange: "My chest started hurting. I started breathing funny. That's when I made the phone call."

December 27, 2012, he checked into Ochsner in New Orleans for a long-term solution to his problem.

"He was having some ischemic cardiomyopathy, meaning his blood flow to his heart was not good enough," doctor Bansal said.

That's why when they mentioned the Total Artificial Heart; Williams agreed.

"I wanted to make it to my daughter's graduation.  Tuesday just passed and that was my main goal, other than get a heart," Williams said.  The hospital arranged a live video stream of the graduation so Williams could watch from his hospital room.

He was confined to his room for months, hooked to the large machine that kept the artificial heart beating. Now, the use of a backpack called the Freedom Driver will give him the mobility to soon be discharged.

"I told the doctor I can't win the fight with my hands behind my back, and this has been a fight," Alfred said. "I'm undefeated now."