40 years ago, the first transplant of a permanent artificial heart

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40 years ago, the first permanent artificial heart transplant

A Jarvik 7 artificial heart

On the night of December 1-2, 1982, in Salt Lake City, USA, a man's chest was cut open to replace his gasping heart with a permanent prosthesis. A world first.

Only one surgeon is authorized to perform the operation: Dr. William DeVries, Chairman of the Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery Section at the University of Utah.

The selected patient, Barney Clark, is a retired Seattle dentist. He suffers from very short-term fatal heart degeneration, but at the age of 61 he is deemed too old for a human heart transplant.

L&#x27 The intervention, advanced because of the patient's weakening heartbeat, begins in the middle of the night. At 2:30 a.m., the team announces that they have removed the diseased heart, and at 6:00 a.m., they have placed the prosthesis. All in all, the operation will have lasted 7 hours.

Because, in addition to the technical prowess of the implantation, the doctors had to face pulmonary edema, as well as internal bleeding from the tissues damaged by cortisone treatment. They were also forced to unexpectedly replace the left ventricle of the artificial heart which was malfunctioning.

At the end of the morning, the team described the operation as a success, but adds in the process to be moderately optimistic about the patient's chances of survival.

But in the afternoon, Barney Clark opens his eyes, recognizes his wife and indicates to the doctor with a nod that he is not in pain. He is quickly put back to sleep to avoid strain on the stitches.

Its new heart is a Jarvik 7, named after its inventor. While the operation makes history, the heart is still experimental and the device far from ideal. The 300 gram prosthesis, installed in the patient's chest, is connected to a bulky 170 kg compressor by means of two one-meter pipes which escape from the dentist's body just above below his rib cage.

Robert Jarvik's invention is not the first artificial heart to be implanted in a human, but the first designed to work sustainably and not just for a few hours while waiting for a human heart.

There is still a lot of work to be done before the use of an artificial heart becomes routine. We will first have to make sure that it works well and find a way to miniaturize the compressor, insists Dr. Jarvik, present during the operation.

This premiere is nonetheless a source of hope: it was estimated at the time that each year 650,000 people died of cardiovascular disease in the United States. Against a hundred performed human heart transplants.

Five hours after the operation, the doctors announce that the artificial heart is working normally; two days later it works great. Barney Clark is beginning to be himself again, his family announces.

I don't believe he believed the experiment would succeed. His intention in tempting her was to make a contribution to the history of medicine, explains his son Stephen.

Several serious crises will then follow one another, including three requiring a return to the block. In February, more than two months after the transplant, the patient's condition was declared good. He leaves the intensive care unit.

But on March 22, the hospital summons the press: the mood is pessimistic . Barney Clark dies the following day following a dysfunction of various vital organs, after having lived 112 days with an artificial heart. Having always thought, according to his wife, that it was worth it.