‘Saved my life’: Harrisburg man is first in North America with artificial heart

HARRISBURG, N.C. — In an incredible example of the power of modern medicine, a man from Harrisburg is the first in North America to live with a completely artificial heart.

At just 39 years old, Matt Moore found himself in total heart failure. He needed a new heart but didn’t have time to wait for a donor. Thanks to a new invention and a team of doctors at Duke, he’s alive today to tell his story.

“I could have guessed ‘til the cows come home what I’d be first at, and this is not it,” Moore told Channel 9′s Allison Latos.

Though he has quite the sense of humor, Moore’s story -- while incredibly unique -- is far from funny. His complete heart failure was caused by significant blockage in his heart vessels, according to Duke University cardiologist Dr. Adam Devore.

“His heart wasn’t getting enough blood flow and it was getting very weak,” Devore said.

“I felt fatigued,” Moore recalled. “I didn’t feel right and I was having trouble sleeping at night.”

Things were so serious that his doctors sent him to see experts at Duke. But within 24 hours, he took a turn for the worse.

“The doctor said I was dead for 45 minutes. They couldn’t find a pulse,” he said. “But they did tell me afterward there’s a difference between ‘dead’ and ‘Duke dead’.”

Duke doctors didn’t give up on him. Moore was too sick to wait for a heart transplant. His surgeons decided to try something new -- so new, in fact, that it’s still being studied by the FDA.

Their idea? Carmat, the first totally artificial heart -- developed in Europe.

“The only con we had was, he’s the first,” his wife Rachel told Latos.

Moore was the first patient in North America and only the 20th in the world. But the risk was worth it for Moore and his family, including 3-year-old Marshall who they recently adopted.

“My biggest thing was getting home to see my son,” he said. “I fought and fought and fought.”

In July, surgeons replaced Moore’s heart with the artificial one. The Carmat heart uses electronics, pumps, and sensors, but Dr. Devore said it’s uniquely made for the human body. The parts that come into contact with blood are made from pig tissue because metal or other substances can cause human blood to clot.

“We worry about clots that can break off and go anywhere, including the brain, and cause strokes,” Devore said.

Moore said the heartbeat sounded like sawing a log. But that artificial heart kept him alive long enough to get stronger while he waited for a human donor. In November, another family’s loss gave the Moores even more hope when he finally received a human heart.

“They helped me sustain my life and I couldn’t be more thankful,” Matt Moore said. “I would tell them ‘thank you.’ ‘I’m so sorry, but thank you.’”

As the Moores left Duke, they said the miracles of modern medicine happening there gave them another chance to cherish every moment with their son. They are grateful for every second and every single heartbeat.

“It saved my life, no doubt,” Matt Moore said.

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