DOCTORS say artificial heart an `overwhelming success,' patient celebrates with ice cream


Thursday, August 2nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6



LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ A man slipping toward death a month ago has shown a renewed zest for life since getting an artificial heart and might even be able to go home someday, his surgeon says.

The patient, the first human implanted with a fully self-contained artificial heart, jokes with doctors and nurses, takes strolls in the hospital, listens to jazz CDs and watches videotapes.

It's a remarkable turnaround from before the surgery, when he had difficulty lifting his head and could take only two or three steps from a wheelchair to bed, Dr. Robert Dowling told reporters Wednesday _ the 30th day since the patient received the heart.

``He was facing death 30 days ago and he knew it,'' Dowling said. ``He was very cognizant of his own mortality. And now he is looking forward to life. Life is wonderful. He is very positive. He's just happy to be here.''

The patient, described only as a diabetic in his 50s, ate ice cream and cheesecake at a party that celebrated nearly a month of survival since receiving the AbiorCor pump July 2 at Jewish Hospital.

Asked on NBC's ``Today'' program Thursday under what circumstances the man could go home from the hospital, Dowling said, ``he still has to put on 30 pounds of good weight and muscle mass and gain his strength.'' He said if he sounded more optimistic than the heart's makers, who had stressed the experimental nature of the surgery, it's because he is a naturally optimistic person.

``The goal of all of us working together is to give patients of this device a good quality of life, not for them staying in the hospital for the months and years that we give them,'' Dowling said.

The man has regained strength at a ``phenomenal'' rate in recent days, Dowling said Wednesday. He could walk a short distance with assistance late last week, and now can stroll 100 feet unassisted, Dowling said.

``The first 30 days have been an overwhelming success,'' said Dowling, who teamed with Dr. Laman Gray Jr. to perform the surgery.

The patient, who has a history of heart and liver problems, had been given only 30 days to live. He was too sick to receive a human heart transplant.

Within days of the transplant, the patient remarked that he was breathing better than he had in years, Dowling said.

The rest of his body has responded well to the artificial heart. The patient's liver and kidney functions are near normal, his lungs are clear and his blood pressure is better, Dowling said.

``Every parameter we want to look at he's gotten better,'' Dowling said.

The patient was on and off a ventilator several times in the days after the operation but has for the most part been off it for the past week, Dowling said.

The softball-sized, titanium and plastic pump, made by Abiomed Inc. of Danvers, Mass., is entirely self-contained. It has an internal battery and a device that regulates the pumping speed. Earlier mechanical hearts had wires and tubes penetrating the chest to connect to a power source, which increased the risk of infection.

Abiomed and the hospital have maintained a ``quiet period'' since the surgery to protect the patient's privacy. By closed-circuit TV, the patient participated in an Abiomed-sponsored forum for doctors and heart researchers over the weekend in Boston.