Artificial heart

The first person to receive what’s called a total artificial heart at University of Iowa Hospitals in Iowa City was discharged on Tuesday in great health, walking and smiling.

 The U-of-I’s  Jim Davis is the cardiothoracic surgeon who implanted the device in the man’s chest during an eight-hour procedure about a month ago.

Dr. Davis says the technology in the mechanical heart isn’t all that revolutionary. Davis says, “It’s been around in some form or another for a number of years but the ability to manage it medically, to choose appropriately the patient and the device to drive it and all of that has really improved over time, as has the experience with how to do it.”

The patient, 59-year-old Richard Whittington of Geneseo, Illinois, is the first in the Midwest to recover to the extent that he could go home. Among the many adjustments Whittington will be making in his life, Davis notes, is getting used to his new mechanical heartbeat.

“It’s not really a clicking sound but more kind of a clunk-clunk sound,” Davis says. “It has air diaphragms inside of it that expand and contract and when they expand, they force the blood through the device. That’s the pumping action and there is a sound to that. There is a compressor with it that makes a sound as well.”

While the “lub-dub” of a heartbeat has dramatically changed for this patient, Davis says he won’t likely be complaining about the noise.

“Patients, for the most part, become very used to that and they’re very aware that this is the sound that’s keeping them alive,” Davis says. Laughing, he adds, “It really doesn’t bother them a lot. I think it’s something they’re very willing to put up with considering how they feel when they’re done as compared to how they felt before.”

Much like with a heart transplant, the total artificial heart replaces both failing heart ventricles and the four heart valves, eliminating the symptoms and the source of heart failure. This device is a temporary fix for Whittington. He’s on a transplant waiting list for a human heart.

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