MEDICAL team shares stories about first human recipient of self-contained artificial heart

Friday, August 31st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ When Robert Tools became the world's first recipient of a self-contained artificial heart, the company that makes the device set a 60-day survival goal and cautioned that the patient might not make it that far.

Tools reached that mark Thursday and has given his medical team at Jewish Hospital no reason to believe that he won't continue to improve. The team shared their stories about the former telephone company worker this week, describing him as a gregarious patient who wants to help others with terminal heart failure.

His nurses say Tools does his exercises and eats properly, but sometimes isn't thrilled to see them. They say he is well-informed and aware of his surroundings. He likes to gently joke and tease.

``I believe he definitely has the personality for this. He is determined and stubborn, and he wants to do the work, said Rebecca Dentinger, an intensive-care nurse who has cared for Tools since June 27.

The team's stories and observations, shared with The Courier-Journal of Louisville, reinforce what Tools' surgeons have been saying about him. They also flesh out the patient who was introduced to the world last week.

Cindy Reeve, one of the nurses who cares for Tools, said he gets nervous when a new technician starts examining the console that monitors and controls his heart.

``If he doesn't know somebody and they come in and they look like they're going to push something on the console, he's real leery about that,'' Reeve said. ``He knows that machine is his mortality.''

Dr. Kenneth Thielmeier, an anesthesiologist who helped put Tools to sleep for the implant, said that before the Aug. 21 news conference at which Tools spoke publicly for the first time, he had his inch-long hair cropped close.

``I came up and rubbed his head, and he said, `Ah, for good luck,''' Thielmeier recalled.

``I said I hoped he would get to go home for Christmas, and he agreed that would be nice.''

Dr. Geetha Bhat, director of the heart failure and cardiac transplant center at Jewish Hospital, assessed Tools before the implant and determined that he was too sick for a human-heart transplant.

Now she sees Tools almost daily, and hears him talk about wanting to help others as sick as he was before his implant.

``I don't think he has a concrete plan yet, but he is a thoughtful, caring person, sensitive to the needs of others, and I am sure he will want to share his experiences,'' Bhat said.

Reeve said Tools likes to sit at the windows on the upper floor of the Rudd Heart and Lung Center, looking north toward the Ohio River and Indiana.

When she forgets a name or a bit of history, she said, Tools usually can refresh her memory.

``As an example, I had forgotten the name of that poet who is a friend of Oprah Winfrey. And I said, `What's her name, Bob?' and he sat there a few minutes and he told me, ``Maya Angelou,' and I said, ``Oh, that's right.'''

Not all his days are good ones. Sometimes, when he's tired in the morning, ``He'll make a little grimace,'' Reeve said.

``I'm not saying he means it,'' she added. ``But if you've worked him hard the day before, if you've made him get up, walk, lift weights, drink his nutritional shake, I know he really doesn't want to see me the next day because he knows he's going to go through the same thing again. We get over it, and he smiles and laughs.''

The AbioCor artificial heart was implanted into Tools on July 2. It is self-contained, with internal and external batteries. Earlier mechanical hearts had wires and tubes that stuck out of the chest and connected to a power source.