‘It was a hum, which was amazing.’

Posted by on Jun 28, 2011 | Comments Off on ‘It was a hum, which was amazing.’

Doctors have implanted the world’s first beatless heart into a living human being. Craig Lewis, a 55-year-old Texas man, lived for five weeks without a pulse. He died due to underlying disease – but doctors said the heart worked perfectly.

The device is formed by intricately tying together two ventricular assist devices, replacing the entire heart.

It whirls instead of pulses, spinning blood through the body in a continuous flow. ‘I listened,’ Mr Lewis’s widow Linda told NPR. ‘It was a hum, which was amazing.’

She said she knew the procedure was risky. ‘He wanted to live, and we didn’t want to lose him,’ she said.

Mr Lewis got the new heart after his wife approached Dr Billy Cohn and Dr OH ‘Bud’ Frazier at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston in March.

He had been in a coma-like state. But with the new heart he was able to sit up and talk to his family before his kidney and liver eroded.

The family ultimately decided to turn the heart off to allow him to die humanely. ‘You never know how much time you have but it was worth it,’ Mrs Lewis said.

‘You never know how much time you have’: Mrs Lewis said that though her husband died five weeks later of the underlying disease, the operation had been worth it
The pair had already tested their invention, first on a calf named Abigail. ‘If you listened to [Abigail’s] chest with a stethoscope, you wouldn’t hear a heartbeat,’ Dr Cohn told ABC News.

She had no pulse, he said, and would be flat-lined on an EKG. ‘By every metric we have to analyze patients, she’s not living.’

But, he said, instead she was happy and in good health. The doctors tested the device on a further 38 calves, and were thrilled with the results.

Every animal has a pulsatile heart, Dr Cohn explained. The problem with existing artificial hearts is that to do the same job, they have to beat 100,000 times a day, 35million times a year.

They wear out, he explained. With a car, you can change the oil and spark plugs – with an artificial heart, it is not so easy to keep the device going.

The new device whirls instead of pulses – something that Mrs Lewis said her husband, who worked for the city of Houston maintaining its vast system of wastewater pumps, would have appreciated.

The continuous flow it creates helps alleviate problems with artificial hearts such as clotting, thrombosis and bleeding.

It also provides more options for those in stages of advanced heart failure.

Previously, patients with full heart failure had just two options: artificial heart, with all its limitations; or join the transplant list.

Those with only the left side of the heart failing also has the help of left ventricular assist devices, such as the one keeping former Vice President Dick Cheney alive.

The new device offers a third option to those with full heart failure – and, designed to accommodate both sides, can also save those with right-side failure.

Doctors hailed it was ‘the wave of the future’ and ‘the logical next step’.

It does raise a few psychological questions, however. ‘Who knows where you will put your hand when you say the Pledge of Allegiance?’ wondered Dr Cohn.




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