Good News for Artificial Hearts

May 5th, 2010

We’re used to thinking of the term “artificial” as a bad thing, but when it comes to artificial hearts, the continuing technology is really amazing.

I want to share a video of Vanessa, who learned she needed a heart transplant at 27 years old. In 2007, she had moved to Las Vegas to start a new job, but instead she ended up getting flown to University Medical Center (UMC) in Tucson, Az. where she received an artificial heart called CardioWest, an FDA-approved Total Artificial Heart made by SynCardia.

That all sounds very challenging, but here’s a difficulty you may not have imagined: Vanessa’s artificial heart was powered by a 400 plus pound machine, nicknamed “Big Blue.” She couldn’t leave the hospital while she waited for her donor heart.

An indefinite wait in the hospital could be enough to drive anyone a little mad. In rare cases, some patients wait in the hospital up to a year. No offense to hospital workers, but you know we’d all much rather be out and about, hanging with our pets and getting some sunshine. You can’t do that with a big machine attached.

As Vanessa’s strength improved, she used the hospital’s wellness center to make sure her body would be strong enough to receive her donor heart. With “Big Blue” close by she boxed and used a treadmill, bike and free-weights.

To keep boredom away, she watched movies in her room, played video games and started drawing. However, she missed lots of stuff outside the hospital, like celebrations with her family, holiday dinners and shopping. Four months after Vanessa was implanted with her Total Artificial Heart, she received her donor transplant and was able to go home at last!

Good News
Even tough Vanessa’s story has a happy ending, she can’t help wondering what her life might have been like if she were able to take “Big Blue” home. In the near future, patients in her situation may not have to wonder.

SynCardia just received FDA approval to conduct an IDE clinical study of the Freedom Driver System, the first portable driver system enabling patients to live outside of the hospital with their artificial heart.

Patients will be able to wait for their donor hearts at home with a the 13.5 pound Freedom Driver, so small it can be carried in a backpack. That’s a big change from the 400 plus pound machine that kept Vanessa company in the hospital for four months!

Read more about the clinical study online.

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