Tuesday, July 17, 2001

Artificial-heart patient exceeds expectations

Recipient thanks well-wishers worldwide

By Bruce Schreiner
The Associated Press

        LOUISVILLE — Doctors who implanted an artificial heart in a man two weeks ago said Monday they are pleased with his progress.

        Doctors have taken him on and off the ventilator several times because he's still not strong enough to breathe.

        They said they had spoken with the man when he was off the ventilator, and he wanted to thank well-wishers around the world. University of Louisville surgeon Robert Dowling also said the family was thankful that the man's identity has not been made public.

        “They really treasure their privacy,” he said.

        The softball-sized experimental heart, called the AbioCor, was implanted into the man July 2 by Dr. Dowling and his colleague Laman Gray Jr. in a seven-hour operation at Jewish Hospital.

        “He has done better than what either Robert or I would have expected given his condition,” Dr. Gray said. “He's still extremely sick.”

        Hospital and company officials have not released details about the man's identity.

        The patient, a man in his 50s, has diabetes and a history of heart problems. His health problems had prevented him from receiving a human heart transplant.

        Dr. Gray said Monday that before the surgery, the man could walk only about 10 to 15 feet.

        He said one complication of the implant surgery has been bleeding, and doctors have had to adjust medications to control the problem.

        The plastic and metal pump is made by Abiomed Inc. of Danvers, Mass.

        The device includes an internal battery and controller that regulates the pumping speed. An external battery powers the device by passing electricity through the skin. The rechargeable internal battery, about the size of a pager, will operate the device for up to 30 minutes.

        Earlier mechanical hearts had wires and tubes penetrating the chest to connect to a power source, which increased the risk of infection.


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