Editor’s Note: The U.S. Transhumanist Party urges our members and any other interested persons with medical knowledge to help our Director of Publication, Zach Richardson, one of our most active and dedicated Officers, in his fight for life. Zach is awaiting the opportunity to receive a heart transplant, as the infrastructure supporting the artificial heart that he was previously provided has unfortunately become dangerous to him due to the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection. Without an imminent heart transplant, Zach has months to live, and thus he needs to qualify for a transplant quickly. Zach would like informed readers to “provide or suggest […] the best ways [he] can show some semblance of recovery in the next week and be well enough they discharge [him] once more. That would allow [him] to get to Chicago and hopefully get listed.” After reading the background that Zach has thoroughly shared regarding the recent unfortunate developments in his situation, please see the last section entitled “How the Transhumanist Community Can Help” to understand what Zach is particularly seeking input on. Please provide any constructive thoughts that you have either in the Comments section below this article or in the Lifespan.io Discord server to which Zach refers readers in this article. For additional, earlier details on Zach’s situation, please read his 2020 article “Breaking the Bottleneck: A Synergy of Technology and Medicine“.
~Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman, United States Transhumanist Party, February 13, 2022
I have found myself obstructed in my ability to serve the community, obstructed in my ability to work for our cause, and obstructed in my ability to set any decisive plans.
Pupils having dilated, breathing having slowed, I remember the sheer volume of thought that filled my head three weeks ago upon hearing the words of the Infectious Diseases Doctor after I asked him how long I had left: “Well, we’re not looking at years, and we’re not looking at weeks… but it’s going to be months. We’ve probably got months.”
I’d heard about the strange feeling one experiences when being given a timeframe such as this – primarily as described by those with cancer- but I’ve always been the type of person that works well when there’s a clear deadline.
The literalness of that last word has had an extremely focusing effect.
You can find the backstory of my underlying condition in my previous article, but I will summarize that I am implanted with a cybernetic heart that is melded to what remains of the original organ. The device is called an LVAD, a Left Ventricular Assist Device. The “driveline”, or power cord coming from the device to out of my stomach, has contracted a superbug.
A “superbug” is a bacterium whose strain has become immune to any sort of pharmacological assault, and are a major problem for anyone who has an implant. This can include pacemakers, artificial knees, hip replacement, LVADs, and several others.
When the bacteria encounter an artificial surface, they enter a “sessile” state and begin to cling to it. Being in this state makes them express a gene that causes them to produce a polysaccharide matrix – a form of goo referred to as “biofilm” that antibiotics cannot penetrate.
Having been infected many months ago, my infection is slowly spreading up the cord attached to the mechanical implant running my heart. The biofilm has so far been resistant to doxycycline, cephalexin, Bactrim DS, vancomycin and now daptomycin, which I have been infusing into my arm every day.
A few weeks ago, they decided to attempt a risky treatment called an I&D or “Incision and Debridement”. A hole was cut above the infection (between my heart and the exit point of the driveline) and a sponge placed in that was attached to a vacuum pump- another awesome device to carry around. I was tooled out cyborg-wise. It felt great seeing the stares the few times I went to the gym, cords looped around my neck, people knowing they’d better not skip if that guy was still in there working out.
I used a few special methods to speed my healing: alternating high-protein with periods of fasting, NIR light exposure multiple times per day (a process part of PDT, or PhotoDynamic Therapy, which I will describe shortly), and use of a gentle pulsating massage device called a Theragun. Each time they exchanged the sponge and resealed the wound, the nurses remarked how quickly the wound was healing, and seemed amazed. After just a couple of weeks, I was advised that I should switch to care for my wound myself.
Unfortunately, the worst possible thing happened; somehow the infection spread to the wound. It was as if a forest fire spreading towards a city had been halted by firefighters, only to have a new fire spring up even closer to the city.
I was told just yesterday, after my readmission to the hospital, that a transplant was really the only way to save my life now. Exchanging my mechanical device for a fresh and clean new device was not a feasible solution, because the infection would linger in my body, and would just cling to the new device, putting me right back in the same spot. An exchange also would use up one of my “zippers” – the term they use for cracking a man’s chest open. You only get so many.
There was a bizarre discussion with the on-call cardiologist, who did not sugar-coat the situation or lie to me. He told me the plan was to support me with various powerful antibiotics which would do nothing but delay my situation (A “Status 4” on the transplant list, where I had been for three years now with my trusty device), wait until I got sick enough that I had to be permanently hospitalized (A “Status 3”), then became so sick I needed to be moved to the Intensive Care Unit (“Status 2”) where the real action would begin.
Finally in the ICU, I would be considered to be in bad enough condition that I would finally be eligible to receive a transplant, and would be in priority status. I would be hooked to many wondrous devices that would keep me alive until a suitable heart could be found. Being of Type O blood, this could take quite some time. Perhaps months. Perhaps too long.
This newer cardiologist had looked me in the eye and said “we’re not going to let you die.” Which was the first time I had heard such a thing. Others had been more reserved. I take it that it is still up in the air, but that live or die, I will be spending a considerable amount of time in a non-productive state. Resting in this passive period of my life is what will give me the chance to earn another active period. In Taoism we refer to this as “action through inaction”.
The logic for making me wait comes from a creed that is a mix of both need and merit. Those with more need who are in a more critical condition will receive a heart before I do. Those who previously have shown themselves to be non-meritorious, either by smoking cigarettes (off the list for a year the first time, permanently for the second time) or by not disciplining themselves to maintain a healthy weight, or by not coming to appointments, are removed from the list.
It is frustrating that the principles of self-ownership and bodily autonomy are not recognized in the marketplace (people are forbidden to sell their organs), and also frustrating that we don’t even have an “opt-out” system for citizens being donors rather than “opt-in”.
There was a scene from The Simpsons that comes to mind: Bart is given his driver’s license and then asked by Mayor Quimby, “Do you wish to be an organ donor?” to which Bart replies, “No way! I don’t want my guts touching some sick guy!”. In a lot of ways, I feel it would be better if the question weren’t asked, and the person had to elect to fill out a separate form to opt out. Better still if the organs could be immediately put on the market, with all proceeds going to the relatives or any other designated beneficiary.
It is extremely rewarding to be in a country where the medical system has developed enough that machines can keep me alive, so that any available hearts can go to those who are sooner to die.
Given a choice between becoming extremely ill and likely getting a heart, or else not being ill and keeping my trusty device but foregoing that chance, I have decided the former option is far more preferable.
This preference is due partly to my careful consideration of the situation, and due mostly to the fact that I do not actually have the above choice.
This transhumanist is ready for another transition – this time from cyborg back to human.
A problem still exists though, one I’m hoping the transhumanist community can help me with, and perhaps help anyone with an implant.
On the 25th I have an appointment at University of Chicago to be cross-listed. This means I would be able to receive a heart from the Chicago area, not just the Indianapolis area. While I would have to drive to Chicago every week thereafter to get medical care, that is a small price to pay to receive the gift of a heart.
The U of C has the shortest transplant wait-list in the country. I am not sure how much of that is due to the excellence of their program, and how much is due to the amount of deaths in that area.
I am scheduled to see their Director of Mechanical Circulatory Support. A man that guides and leads the creation of cyborgs like me! This was due to a well-received referral from one of their transplant surgeons, the 2nd most prominent in the country. It turns out he plays poker with my mother’s psychiatrist.
Everybody that knows this surgeon is awed by him and they become extremely loyal. While extremely kind and clever, he is an extremely dominant man and everything has to be perfect for his operations, and everybody knows this. He is the man who implanted the device that served me faithfully and reliably for three years now, before he moved to Chicago. I am the only patient he has given his personal phone number to, which was four years ago. I have sent him eight text messages since then, five in 2018, and three in 2022.
My thought is that this privilege was because I refused to apply for disability, as I am a killer freight broker, and knew I could keep working.
I told my second job’s boss this and he said “Makes sense. Perfectionists appreciate work ethic.” That made me smile.
So I am in exactly the situation I need to be in. The situation where it is possible to transition back to a fully-human state.
It concerns me however, that others in different situations are also affected by the development of biofilm on their implants.
Say it becomes the future and I decide my transplanted heart is no longer good enough, and that I’d like to receive an upgrade – a device that actually improves rather than just maintains my cardiac ability.
Will I and others then face the same situation? One nick in the skin and your device begins to coat with this insufferable goo? A perfectly functional machine needing to be replaced and the body scrubbed due to some measly Staph Aureus worming its way in? Some miserable germ disrupting the life of one trying to cultivate immortality?
We can do better than that.
How the Transhumanist Community Can Help
I have a request and a challenge for the Transhumanist Community.
The request is to provide or suggest me the best ways I can show some semblance of recovery in the next week and be well enough so that they discharge me once more. That would allow me to get to Chicago and hopefully get listed.
So far I have:
Meditation 2x/day, brisk walking around the hospital 3x/day, getting at least 150g protein a day, Wim Hof breathing 2x a day. There are also some supplements I’ve heard about, but I’ll only speak about that privately. Please email me any thoughts (email@example.com).
The challenge is fighting biofilm. Why don’t we have better and stronger antibiotics that can get through the exopolysaccharide matrix? Can we promote more development of these antibiotics by big biotech? How can we get more arcane treatments that have shown clinical in-vitro significance (particularly PDT) used in more human trials? Are there any novel uses for phage therapy, where an engineered virus is used to kill off the bacteria?
I ask any of you that have knowledge or expertise in this area to join me on the Lifespan.io Discord server and discuss these things. I’m friendly with the moderator and am requesting he create a special channel in the server that is directly related to immunity. We are smart enough to beat these pests.
Zach Richardson is Director of Publication for the U.S. Transhumanist Party.