Monday, October 08, 2001

Artificial heart can't fit woman

Smaller version may be two years away

The Associated Press

        LOUISVILLE — The AbioCor artificial heart that is keeping three men alive is too big for Lauren Heaton, but her mother hopes that one day will not be the case.

        Ms. Heaton, who has congestive heart failure, is 5-foot-4 and weighs about 120 pounds. The 26-year-old from Yellow Springs, Ohio, was tested last month for a possible implant at Jewish Hospital in Louisville on her doctor's recommendation, the Courier-Journal reported Sunday.

        Ms. Heaton doubted the softball-sized mechanical pump would fit inside her chest, and she was right.

        Analysis of a chest X-ray last month showed that the plastic and metal heart was too large for her rib cage. Although she was so ill her doctors worried whether she had much time to live, Ms. Heaton could not be considered for the implant surgery.

        Since then, her condition has improved slightly. But her fleeting experience with the AbioCor implant illustrates a serious limitation, as well as the hope it can offer people such as Ms. Heaton who face death.

        The size of the device is a practical obstacle that the AbioCor's designers said they always realized, but was impossible to avoid, at least for now. A smaller version is “a couple of years” away, said Abiomed spokesman Ed Berger.

        Ms. Heaton's mother, Kazuko Heaton, said that if the AbioCor eventually is downsized, she would urge her daughter to consider it again, if her condition warrants it.

        “As scary as it is, my hope is that she could hang on until they develop a smaller one,” she said.

        The present size of the heart was dictated by development contracts with the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, which wanted to be sure the heart could pump adequate amounts of blood and specified that it must have a capacity of 10 liters per minute, “which is what a large human being needs for normal and moderate activity,” Mr. Berger said.

        When it became clear from the first three implants, all performed since July 2, that the device appears to be working as designed, the company “kicked into high gear” a new project to reduce the size of the heart by as much as 30 percent.

        “A smaller person needs lesser output, so a downsized heart should give an equally good result,” he added.


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