UIHC completes first artificial heart implant


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One University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics heart patient’s life has been extended thanks to a successful artificial heart implant.

UIHC physicians completed the state’s first Total Artificial Heart implant July 6, UI officials said.

The implant serves as an innovative device that allows patients to spend more time at home while awaiting a transplant.

“It’s kind of a milestone in that we can now offer the sickest of the sick patients a way to survive until they can get a heart transplant,” said James Davis, the cardiothoracic surgeon who implanted the device.

UIHC officials started a certification process in October 2010 to be able to use the heart in patients with biventricular failure. The patient, a male in his 50s, is up and walking around and said he is feeling better than before the surgery.

He will have to wait for a heart, a process which can take around six to eight months, Davis said. But with this implant, the patient will be able to go home instead of waiting at the hospital.

The heart is used for people with end-stage biventricular failure as a means to create more time before receiving a transplant heart. The recipients of this heart tend to be extremely close to death, said Don Isaacs, the vice president of communications for SynCardia, the company that developed the heart.

“[The Total Artificial Heart] can save the sickest of the sick,” Isaacs said.

The device, known as the Freedom driver, allows patients to spend more time at home. It is an external part of the Total Artificial Heart that regulates blood flow and is currently being looked at in trials with the Food and Drug Administration, Isaacs said.

UIHC physicians expect to do between three and six implants each year, said Jennifer Goerbig-Campbell, a cardiologist in the UI Heart and Vascular Center.

“We are fully equipped to do that now,” she said.

But while some people are enthusiastic about the artificial heart, others are detracted by its age and bulkiness.

“[The Total Artificial Heart] is an old device,” said Edwin McGee, the director of heart transplants and mechanical assistance progress at the Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “It’s from the ’80s.”

The heart was developed in the 1940s by Dr. Willem Kolff. The first implant of the Total Artificial Heart doctors use today occurred on Dec. 2, 1982, by Kolff. The patient lived for 112 days.

The organ was originally intended to be a permanent heart, but it became more successful as an artificial heart. The retail cost is $124,700, but Isaacs said insurance companies usually cover the costs. The first implant of the heart used as a bridge to a heart transplant occurred in 1985. More than 26 years later, more than 900 implants have occurred.

And these implants have been fairly successful.

A 10-year pivotal clinical study that ended in the Food and Drug Administration approving the heart on Oct. 15, 2004, showed 79 percent of patients who received the artificial heart went on to receive a transplant.

“It’s the only device that can help a very, very sick patient,” Isaacs said.

But McGee said he has been approached by SynCardia to use the heart and has refused to incorporate it in his hospital.

“It makes a lot of noise,” McGee said. “[And] it’s kind of bulky.”

But Isaacs still has faith in the heart and said it gives people with cardiovascular disease — the No. 1 cause for death in the civilized world — more time to live.

“[The Total Artificial Heart] makes the body operate as it’s designed,” Isaacs said.

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