Several days after running a 10K event in Atlanta in 2019, Arthur Vaughn found himself breathless simply walking across the room.
Vaughn’s primary care physician recommended he see a cardiologist. The exam included a stress test. After three minutes on the treadmill, Vaughn vomited. The doctor told him to ask his then-wife to join them.
When she arrived, the doctor broke the news: Vaughn was in such severe heart failure that he would need a transplant.
Vaughn fell to the ground, crying. “I’m not ready to die!” said the then-50-year-old.
Vaughn was admitted to a local hospital. He continued to get weaker, drifting in and out of consciousness. Later that week, he was airlifted to another facility better able to care for cases like his.
The inflammation in his heart was so severe that it interfered with the electrical pathways that maintain a normal beat. “To get him out of those fatal heart rhythms, he had to be shocked (with a defibrillator) many times – more than any person should have to endure,” says Dr. Divya Gupta, who treated Vaughn. She’s the medical director for advanced heart failure and transplant at Emory Healthcare.
A biopsy of Vaughn’s heart revealed he had giant cell myocarditis, a condition in which inflammatory cells clump together and attack the heart.
“This leads to a very precipitous decline in heart function,” Gupta shares, noting it’s a rare condition with only a 10% to 20% survival rate. “There really aren’t great options other than heart transplant for survival.”
To help his heart pump blood, doctors implanted a temporary left ventricular assist device, a machine that essentially does the work that should be done by a healthy heart. It’s often used as a “bridge to transplant,” meaning it keeps the damaged heart going until the patient can get a new heart.
A strong support system
Meanwhile, his then-wife completed all the forms to get him on the transplant waiting list. The process also included demonstrating that he had a strong support system.
His family and friends sent so much food to the hospital that there was enough left over to