First artificial heart recipient back on ventilator after suffering stroke

Thursday, November 15th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ Artificial heart recipient Robert Tools is back on a ventilator and unable to move part of his body after he suffered a stroke, setting back months of progress and apparently dashing his wish to spend Christmas at home.

Tools, 59, had the stroke Sunday at Jewish Hospital, said Dr. Laman Gray, one of the surgeons who implanted the world's first self-contained artificial heart on July 2.

Dr. Robert Dowling, Tools' other surgeon, on Wednesday characterized the patient's condition as serious.

``It's just going to take a long time, maybe several weeks, for us to see a recovery,'' Gray said. ``I will stress to you that everybody remains optimistic that he will recover, and that he will come out of this.''

Gray said he believed the stroke was caused by a blood clot, but doctors haven't pinpointed its origin.

Initially, Tools couldn't move his right arm or leg, Gray said. By Tuesday, he could move his legs but had difficulty swallowing, the doctor said. He is able to open his eyes.

Gray said Tools' outlook is like any other stroke victim, except he has one advantage in having the mechanical heart.

``His condition is slightly better than someone with a heart because we don't have to worry about the heart _ it's working,'' Gray said.

As Tools gained strength in recent weeks, he had taken excursions from the hospital to dine at restaurants, visit a waterfront park and even go fishing. Doctors said that pace had nothing to do with the stroke.

``The outings, or none of his other activities, can be implicated in him having a stroke,'' Dowling said.

Since Tools' surgery, four other gravely ill patients have received the plastic-and-titanium AbioCor device, which is the size of a softball.

Doctors had said early on that strokes were among the risks for the artificial heart patients. The AbioCor was designed to decrease the chance of blood clots forming.

But in the weeks after surgery, Tools was unable to take anti-clotting medicines because it caused gastrointestinal bleeding. Gray said it was remarkable no problems occurred during that time. In the past few weeks, Tools had been on blood-thinning medicine most of the time.

Two months after surgery, Tools briefly had difficulty talking, an episode that might have been a precursor to his latest setback, Gray said.

Before receiving the artificial heart, Tools was suffering from congestive heart failure, diabetes and kidney disease. He was given little chance of surviving 30 days without the operation.

The temperature of the second artificial heart recipient, Tom Christerson, recently rose to 107 degrees. He has improved since and suffered no neurological damage, Gray said Wednesday.

Christerson, 70, is able to sit in a chair but remains on a ventilator, doctors said. He underwent surgery Sept. 13 in Louisville.

In Philadelphia, the most recent person to have the surgery is breathing better, though still on a ventilator, his surgeon said Wednesday. The patient, who had the surgery Nov. 5, is doing light exercise in his hospital bed.

The device is made by Abiomed Inc. of Danvers, Mass.