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|Health & Wellness|
Surgeons Implant Artificial Heart
Doctors at the Texas Heart Institute (THI) at St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital (SLEH) have successfully implanted the first continuous-flow device that mimics what might be considered a total artificial heart in a desperately ill patient facing imminent death. Because the implanted pumps provide the blood flow that the sick heart cannot, they act as a total artificial heart.
Drs. Bud Frazier and Billy Cohn earlier this year implanted the two approved devices into 55-year-old Houstonian Craig A. Lewis in a last attempt to save his life.
Lewis had a rare condition called cardiac amyloidosis, a disease in which the heart is infiltrated by an abnormal protein produced elsewhere in the body. Patients with this affliction are not candidates for heart transplantation because the amyloidosis would probably recur in the transplanted heart.
Currently in early market release, preliminary results for the device have been groundbreaking.
“We have seen a significant difference in function in this device over the other 200-plus feet we have used here at the DeBakey VA,” said Mark Benveniste, R.N., B.S., C.P., MEDVAMC certified prosthetist. “It is the most improvement over conventional prosthetics in the last 20 years.”
The continuous-flow device consists of two turbine-like blood pumps implanted to replace the two sides of the patient’s removed heart. The pumps act as a man-made substitute for the natural heart. The devices were used in what is called an off-label use, that is, a use for something other than an originally intended indication. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) allows physicians to use devices off-label in cases when they are clinically deemed the best therapy or, in this case, the only chance the patient has for meaningful survival.
Lewis had been supported by an external blood pump, a dialysis machine, and a breathing machine for two weeks before doctors decided to try this approach.
Because the device produces continuous flow, Lewis does not have a heartbeat, or a pulse. An EKG records no rhythm because the heart has been removed. Extensive research performed at the Cullen Cardiovascular Research Lab has shown that this unusual physiology is well tolerated by mammals. Based on their results over the last five years, Drs. Cohn and Frazier believed that this device was an option for Lewis. Less than one week after the device’s implantation, Lewis was able to sit up in bed and speak with family members.
“This really is medical history in the making. The demonstration that one can support the human cardiovascular system with two implanted continuous-flow pumps is remarkable and very encouraging. With this new concept in cardiac replacement, we are much closer to realizing a meaningful off-the-shelf replacement,” said Dr. James T. Willerson, THI president.