'Miracle' patient returns to Children's Hospital to thank surgeons, staff

Posted at 6:36 PM, Jan 18, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-18 18:37:06-05

CINCINNATI -- Calling David Franz’s survival "miraculous" would not be inaccurate, according to cardiologist Chet Villa of the Cincinnati Children’s Heart Institute: There have been times in the 25-year-old's life when his odds of survival were less than 5 percent.

Franz, who was born with just one ventricle in his heart, has relied since birth on the love of his family and the care of doctors to keep his blood pumping. Despite multiple open-heart surgeries in his first years of life, Franz returned to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in June 2016 with critical heart failure, according to a news release from the hospital.

"To tell you the truth, his heart stopped," said Dr. David Morales, one of the cardiologists who operated on Franz.

Doctors had to play him on ECMO, an external life support system that takes over the typical functions of the heart and lungs, and then a ventricular assist device called VAD. Immediately after surgeons implanted the VAD, however, the device disloged inside Franz’s chest. He spent 15 minutes with no blood passing through his heart -- a period of oxygen deprivation that could have left him with severe brain damage.

But Franz survived with "no ill effects," according to doctors, and finally received a heart transplant Oct. 21, 2016.

The procedure was complex, doctors said: Because Franz’s health was so delicate, he spent 22 hours in the operating room and needed two temporary VADs to help his new heart function during that time. Surgeons did not close his chest until several days later.

There were dozens -- maybe hundreds -- of points during that surgery that Franz’s health could have taken a final turn for the worse, but it didn’t.

"He was in capable hands," said Susan Langston, Franz’s mother. "The most capable hands. I think that God just placed each person in the right spot at the right time during this entire thing, and we knew David was going to be fine."

He returned to the hospital Jan. 18 to thank the doctors who ensured he could have a chance at a future.

"First the doctors, the nurses, the PCAs," he said. "If I’ve seen you, thank you. Even if I haven’t seen you, thank you."

His mother teared up while she talked about Franz’s future.

"I tell him, just like all my kids, go live your best life," she said. "This is your gift. This is your life. Go live your best life."