AFTER two weeks, doctors say artificial heart working perfectly, recipient still hospitalized

Tuesday, July 17th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ An artificial heart has worked without a hitch since being implanted in a man two weeks ago but the patient remains quite ill, doctors said.

The man's artificial heart has helped other organs that were failing because of his heart disease and diabetes, said Dr. Robert Dowling, one of the surgeons who performed the procedure. Almost twice as much blood is now flowing to his kidneys, Dowling said.

``The heart is functioning exactly like it should be, and it's actually allowing for his other organs to get better,'' Dowling said Monday.

The patient, identified only as a man in his 50s, has diabetes and a history of heart problems that prevented him from receiving a human heart.

He has been taken on and off a ventilator several times since the July 2 surgery because he is not strong enough to breathe on his own. He is expected to remain hospitalized at least two months, Dowling said.

Before the surgery, the man could walk only about 10 to 15 feet because of his weakened heart. He still can't walk on his own but can do exercises such as squeezing a ball.

The man has suffered some internal bleeding.

Since the surgery, the softball-sized experimental heart has beat more than 1.5 million times. The pump, called the AbioCor, is the world's first self-contained artificial heart.

The plastic and metal artificial heart includes an internal battery and a device that regulates the pumping speed.

An external battery powers the artificial heart by passing electricity through the skin. The rechargeable internal battery, about the size of a pager, will operate the heart for up to 30 minutes.

Earlier mechanical hearts had wires and tubes penetrating the chest to connect to a power source, which increased the risk of infection.

Doctors had said before the surgery that the man had an 80 percent chance of dying within 30 days of receiving the device. Dowling said Monday that doctors hope he can survive much longer.

``My goal, long-term, is to have him walk out the front door and go home and have a good quality of life,'' Dowling said.