ARTIFICIAL heart patient suffering respiratory problems, back on ventilator

Monday, August 13th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ The recipient of the first self-contained artificial heart has suffered a setback, requiring a ventilator once more to assist his breathing, one of his surgeons said.

The patient, who has not been identified, had a buildup of secretions in his lungs and was put back on the breathing machine Thursday because he remained too weak to expel mucus secretions on his own.

The man also had developed a pulmonary infection and was running a fever, Dr. Laman Gray, one of the University of Louisville heart surgeons who implanted the AbioCor artificial heart in the patient's chest, said Sunday night.

``This is nothing catastrophic, and it has nothing to do with the heart,'' Gray said. The problems are not life-threatening, he added.

The patient, a diabetic in his 50s, had been recovering enough since his July 2 surgery at Jewish Hospital that his doctors said he had been able to walk ``effortlessly'' on his own.

Doctors had held out some hope that if his steady progress continued, the man might be willing and able to talk publicly about himself and the implant. Gray said it seems unlikely now that that could occur this month.

Gray called the need to put the patient back on the ventilator a ``setback'' but said the man is responding well and doctors hope to start weaning him from it in the next few days.

``This kind of thing happens in the course of treating very sick people,'' Gray said. The buildup of secretions made it harder for the man to breathe without assistance, he said.

The AbioCor has continued to run without problems, and the buildup of secretions in the airways was not caused by the implanted device, he said.

But the patient continues to suffer from another nagging problem _ intestinal bleeding. For that reason, Gray said, the man has been getting only a small dose of drugs to prevent blood clots.

Nonetheless, there have been no signs of clotting, which caused dire problems for some patients with earlier versions of an artificial heart in the 1980s.

The respiratory problems started last week after those steps had been taken, Gray said. The patient is taking antibiotics to control the infection.

On Jan. 30, Abiomed announced that the federal Food and Drug Administration had granted permission for five experimental implants, all to be done on patients terminally ill with heart problems and so sick they were not candidates for a transplant. The Louisville surgery is the only one to be performed so far.