Randy Shepherd is a 40-year-old man who recently finished a four-mile walk despite not having a human heart. Thanks to a recent Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything), we now get some insight into a captivating story.
I had two bouts of rheumatic fever as a kid, necessitating open heart surgery at 17, lived a normal and active life for the next 18 years playing sports and working construction, ran my own business as a plumbing contractor, became symptomatic again about 5 years ago and was told I need a heart transplant. On June 20, 2013 my native heart was removed from my chest and replaced with a Syncardia Total Artificial Heart.
On April 26, Shepherd did his part to exercise and inspire, traversing the 4.2-mile Pat's Run in Phoenix, Arizona, which is a run/walk held in Pat Tillman's honor that raises "scholarship funds for Tillman Military Scholars."
PR Newswire states doctors were fine with the walk: "After getting clearance from his doctors, Shepherd and his wife, Tiffany, joined twenty-eight thousand other participants in the race. Steve Langford, Director of Clinical Support at SynCardia, made the walk with them, which they completed in one hour and 40 minutes."
Of course, a little over four miles is merely a way to stretch the legs for more accomplished runners. In Shepherd's case, the relatively small distance was enough to move us all.
Here are some of the more captivating items offered by Shepherd (who, we just have to note, goes by Tinman556 on Reddit), starting with how he manages to charge his heart: "The external driver has two rechargeable and replaceable batteries, I have a wall charger and a car charger that I can plug in with and that will charge the batteries As it runs the driver."
Charging the ol' ticker in the car sounds amazing, but changing the battery can be harrowing. Shepherd explains the odd feeling once he makes the switch:
The high rate of beats per minute means that it beats a little more than twice per second, and the beats are very tangible, if we were sitting on a couch together you would be able to feel it beating through the couch, so imagine that for about half a second that stopped completely. I always make sure I am reclined and relaxed and take a big long breath before hand, but it is a scary feeling.
Shepherd says the artificial heart is really meant as a bridge to an actual transplant: "The longest I am aware that someone has lived on one is just over 4 years."
As for the run, he opted to go big: "There was a .42 mile kids run and one of my doctors did try to convince me that it may be a safer bet, but if I was going to fail I wanted to fail in tremendous fashion, not get beat by a bunch of snotty kids."
There was one extremely trying portion of the course:
As I was doing the run I kept thinking that if I just pushed through and didn't stop I would be ok, but between mile 2 and 3 there was a pretty long incline and about 3/4 of the way up that I was gasping and getting light headed, my wife tried to reason with me to stop for a rest and I wanted to keep going. She finally got rather forceful with me and I relented and leaned against a pole for a bit to catch my breath.
Shepherd has his eyes set on a future after his transplant:
I have played team sports most of my life, baseball, basketball, softball, but never any endurance events. Mountain biking is one of my passions and I think 25 miles is the furthest I have ever ridden at once. I would like to do a triathlon after my transplant, probably not a full ironman but maybe an Olympic or sprint distance.
Adwar explains a bit more about how the heart functions: "The artificial heart saves the lives of victims whose two human heart ventricles can’t pump enough blood. Replacing both heart ventricles and all four heart valves, the artificial heart allows for 9.5 liters of blood per minute to flow through each ventricle."
From what we could glean from the Reddit account, Shepherd's artificial heart beats so strongly that the power astonishes people when he allows them to touch his chest. As he mentions, however, he is used to it by now.
A short jaunt to honor Tillman has done a great deal more than sate one man with an itch to be active. Thanks to Shepherd, someone out there in a similar situation may now be far more optimistic after hearing his tale.
At the very least, the self-titled Tinman has given us all something quite amazing to appreciate. And now, we wait for a future AMA and the next chapter in an incredible story.
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