Hospital's Quest for Heart Pump Device Ends Just in Time for Dying Teenager

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The teenager splurted blood. His skin went gray. His ear lobes turned blue.

He had collapsed on the floor of his garage while his parents were out walking the dog. The right side of his heart had broken down, causing arrhythmia.

On Nov. 11, 2016, just before noon, a sudden death event was happening in Huntington Beach.

But Tim Deits didn’t die.

What happened to keep Deits alive that day involves a string of coincidences inside a five-minute window that meant life or death. Kids didn’t show up at his house. An elderly woman fainted. His parents brought the family’s golden retriever, Sandy, home at just the right time.

Even the neighbor across the street figures into this amazing story. Coincidentally.

But most importantly, the local hospital staff had pushed and trained and waited for the only medical device in the world — a tiny turbine tube created in Germany by a little-known inventor — that could save a person with a disease that specifically attacks the right side of the heart.

Five years after a surgeon at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach had requested the right-side Impella, a heart pump for a particular type of arrhythmia, the device finally arrived — one month before Tim Deits collapsed. The hospital staff had completed their training with the device three weeks before they really needed it.

It was the first time the newly approved instrument would be used on a child in the United States.

“This kid has something going for him,” said Anthony Caffarelli, a cardiac surgeon at Hoag.


The kid had never shown symptoms of a heart problem, but that’s to be expected with Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy. ARVC can be a quick killer, lying dormant until a sudden implosion of the heart.

Last November, Deits, 16, was a hockey-loving sophomore at Edison High with his eye on something bigger. He saw himself as a soldier in training. He wanted to serve his country. Tim’s plan was to turn 18 and join the Army. He lifted weights regularly in his garage.

“You have to be strong,” Deits said.

On Nov. 11 — Veteran’s Day — Deits’ parents went for a walk along the beach with Sandy. They thought they would come home to a garage full of weightlifting teenagers, which was a normal day in the Deits house.

When they came home, the garage was quiet. To his mother, Michelle, no teenagers in the house was the first sign that something was wrong.

Michelle Deits called out, “Timmy?” He didn’t answer.

She hurried into the garage and found her son on the floor. He wasn’t moving. She screamed for her husband, Ted.

Ted called 911.

Ted got on the floor to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation, which Tim and his sister Kellie, both lifeguards for many years, had taught their father.

With each push of his son’s chest, blood poured out of Tim’s mouth.

“I thought he was dead,” Ted Deits said.

As the day went on, he wouldn’t be alone in that opinion.


Earlier that morning, the paramedics on Huntington Beach Fire Engine 45 had attended a Veteran’s Day ceremony. In the middle of that event, an elderly woman passed out and needed to be taken to the hospital.

Engine 45 took the call and transported her. But instead of going back to the ceremony, they waited on the fringe of the crowd.

Because they weren’t slowed by traffic from the ceremony, they were able to get to Tim Deits in less than two minutes. Doctors would later say that if his parents wouldn’t have come home, and the paramedics wouldn’t have arrived within the same five-minute window, Tim would be dead.

Paramedic Shawna Parkinson rushed into the garage.

“We saw a lot of blood,” Parkinson said. “We thought someone had dropped a weight on his face.”

Paramedics defibrillated Tim’s heart twice in the garage and once in the ambulance. Finally, they could detect a faint pulse.


Critical care doctor Bahram Alavynejad saw Tim arrive in the emergency room.

“Why would an adolescent develop cardiac arrest?” Alavynejad asked himself.

Tim had a dilated right side of his heart. There was no blood clot. No hypertension of the lungs. No heart attack. The patient had not been using drugs.

As they were brainstorming what to do, Tim’s heart stopped again. “Code Blue” is the term they use in the hospital. “Circling the drain,” is what his father said, and he wasn’t trying to be funny.

A minister and chaplain met with the Deits family.

“They’re preparing me for Timmy to die,” said Michelle Deits.

Dr. Ray Ghandi told them Tim had a 10 percent chance of survival … if he got a heart transplant.

Michelle went into Tim’s room. “You have to make it through this,” she said to her unresponsive son. “I can’t make it without you.”

It wasn’t until the evening that Ghandi got another idea. Fresh from his training, he suggested the right-side Impella pump.

“Do we have that?” Alavynejad asked.

They did.

In 2012, cardiac surgeon Caffarelli had approached representatives from Abiomed, the Impella company, about using the pump at Hoag. Abiomed had been successful with its well-known left-side heart pump, but Caffarelli was asking about their right-side pump.

More patients have trouble with the left side of their heart, so the right side device wasn’t always seen as a necessity.

In 2012, when Caffarelli first asked about the right-side pump, which pushes blood from the lungs to the heart, it hadn’t yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Hoag would have to wait.

German inventor Thorsten Siess began developing the Impella in 1991. His goal was to move blood with an electric motor, while the heart was in distress. His device could keep a patient alive until surgeons could fix the heart. It took him more than a decade to perfect a tiny motor that would pump enough blood through a tube to keep a heart pumping.

After all those years, the timing seemed to line up perfectly to save Tim Deits’ life.

In 2016, the FDA approved the right-side pump in May. Hoag approved the right-side pump in September. Cafarelli and Dr. Mahmoud Eslami were trained on the right-side pump in October.

Hoag nurses and staff were trained Oct.17-18.

Tim collapsed at the moment everyone was ready to save him.


The doctors who saved Tim improvised with their use of two Impellas. Tim’s heart was so bad, they used the left-side and right-side Impella pumps at the same time, something that had never been done before.

They put Tim in a coma for four days before they felt confident enough to remove the Impellas and insert a defibrillator that would re-start his heart if it ever stopped again.

Everyone who saw Tim in a coma worried that he would have brain damage when he awoke.

But, four days later, he woke up and eased everyone’s fears immediately.

He asked for his phone.

“I checked Snapchat,” he said with a laugh. Later, he stretched a surgical glove across his head, proving his sense of humor was intact.

“We had the best laugh of our lives,” Ted Deits said.

He was in the hospital for two weeks and went home on Thanksgiving Day.

The Deits family smiles now when they think about all the coincidences that saved Tim’s life. He’s had a couple of scares since then, but everything has turned out OK.

He plans to go back to school at Edison in September.

And the Deits family made a new friend.

While Tim was in the hospital, they met Ben Esque, who works for Abiomed. Esque’s job is to support the doctors who use the Impella.

Coincidentally, Ben Esque lives in Huntington Beach.

Coincidentally, he lives across the street from the Deits family.

To view the original article from The Orange County Register, please click here.