NEW ORLEANS - Just after Mardi Gras, Alfred Williams became the first person in the Gulf South to get a total artificial heart.
Imagine if you could hear every beat of your heart - Williams can.
The process began while Williams was on the road as this longtime truck driver felt something was wrong.
"Chest went to hurting and I think I started getting dizzy. I didn't have a seizure right then, but later on that day, I had a seizure," said Williams. The doctors told him it was because his brain was not getting enough oxygen since his heart could not pump enough blood.
At only 41 years old, he was in total heart failure. Years of high blood pressure, drinking and smoking, since the age of 13, took its toll. The hospital's been home since Christmastime. A team of Ochsner doctors and nurses spent nearly eight hours in the O.R. taking out his enlarged heart and replacing it with a temporary pump called the SynCardia Total Artificial Heart.
"We're very excited as a group that we had the opportunity to help a patient with this technology. Until now, a lot of these patients were just either being subjected to medical therapy, or with the failure of medical therapy, they would be subjected to go to hospice. We were very excited that we had the availability of this pump," said Dr. Aditya Bansal, an Ochsner Cardiothoracic Surgeon.
Williams is now on the waiting list for a donor heart and kidney, since heart failure damaged those too. All five of his children and his wife have signed donor cards.
"At first, I was like, 'I was born with it. I'm going to die with it.' And now that I need an organ, I advise everybody to become a donor if they can," said Williams. "At first it was scary because, you know, I never figured it would be me that need(ed) a heart or organ, period."
"If you look at the numbers (of heart transplants) that we do every year in the United States, it's 2,200. And the number of people on the list are more every time, so we have this problem with supply and demand," said Dr. Hector Ventura, The section head of Heart Failure and Heart Transplants at Ochsner, about the shortage of people donating life-saving organs.
Williams and his mother hope something happens soon. His youngest graduates from high school in mid-May and he can't go.
He now has this message for teens.
"Smoking cigarettes is like smoking marijuana, it's not worth it. It will put your life in a situation like you're at the casino, everything's a gamble. It's not worth it,"
Ochsner is working on helping Williams with a digital hook up to see his daughter's graduation live.
Doctors are also trying to get him a portable artificial heart in a backpack. Those are not yet FDA approved for people with total heart failure like his, only for people with partial heart failure.
To sign a donor card go to: www.ochsner.org/savenine