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Artificial Heart Advance

Patient gets first self-contained device

TUESDAY, July 3, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Surgeons have implanted the world's first self-contained artificial heart, a bundle of titanium and plastic that doctors hope will prolong the life of a mortally ill patient.

Officials at Jewish Hospital in Louisville, Ky. say the patient, an unidentified American, is "resting comfortably," but would not offer further details. University of Louisville surgeons Laman Gray, Jr. and Robert D. Dowling performed the seven-hour operation Monday.

The softball-sized AbioCor heart is made by Abiomed, Inc., of Danvers, Mass. The device has an internal battery that can hold enough charge to keep it running for about a half-hour, and an external battery pack for additional power.

The company obtained permission in January from the Food and Drug Administration to test AbioCor in five patients, with the hope that it could double their life expectancy from a month or less to about 60 days. Four other medical centers have agreed to participate in the trial, though the selection of a second patient has not been announced.

Dr. Irving Kron, a University of Virginia heart surgeon, says the new device offers a "huge advantage" over previous artificial pumps, whose external hookups pose a significant infection risk.

Some specialists have criticized mechanical hearts as wasteful of resources and a diversion from the goal of preventing heart failure. There are 400,000 new cases each year in this country.

But Kron, chairman of the American Heart Association's council on cardiothoracic and vascular surgery, says the devices serve a definite purpose, since the number of hearts available for transplant is far shy of the number of people who need them.

Moreover, Kron adds, artificial pumps can be cost effective. A patient admitted to the hospital four times a year for heart failure can ring up more than $200,000 in charges, while the mechanical organ costs about $75,000.

Dr. Barney Clark became the first artificial heart patient in 1982, when he received the original Jarvik pump, named for its inventor, Dr. Robert Jarvik. The device kept Clark alive for about four months.

Last summer, British researchers implanted the first permanent artificial heart, the Jarvik 2000, into a 61-year-old patient. Permanent mechanical hearts are not yet permitted in the United States, where the devices are allowed only as a stopgap until a transplant can be obtained.

What To Do

For more on AbioCor, visit Abiomed. For more on heart disease and heart failure, try the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the American Heart Association.

To learn more about artificial hearts, visit the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

SOURCES: Interviews with Irving Kron, M.D., chief of cardiothoracic surgery, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, and chairman, council on cardiothoracic and vascular surgery, American Heart Association; University of Louisville, Abiomed press releases
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