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Rewriting Life

Demo: Cure for a Broken Heart

SynCardia Systems of Tucson, AZ, has built a bridge for patients awaiting transplants.

About a thousand U.S. cardiac patients die every year because their failing hearts give out before they are able to receive transplants. In October, the U.S. Food and Drug Adminis­tration approved an artificial heart, developed by SynCardia Systems of Tucson, AZ, that could keep patients alive in the hospital for a few more months until transplants become available. Since the 1950s, researchers have struggled to develop a safe artificial heart. Now SynCardia has come up with the first FDA-approved “bridge-to-transplant” device to replace the whole heart. In a recently published study, 79 percent of patients on the heart survived to transplantation, compared to 46 percent of control patients. Here at the University Medical Center in Tucson, medical staff begin an operation to replace a patient’s dying heart with an artificial one.

Heart Man: Jack Copeland, head of cardiovascular and thoracic surgery at the University of Arizona Sarver Heart Center in Tucson, leads the surgery.

Into The Chest:/> The artificial right ventricle is about to be implanted. It is attached to a tube that connects it to an external device that drives the artificial heart.

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Out of The Chest: Copeland takes out the patients heart, which shows signs of failure: its flabby, enlarged, and covered in fat.

A New Heart:/> Copeland places one of the artificial ventricles into the chest in place of the old heart.

The Parts and The Patient:/> A prototype of the next-generation device that drives the artificial heart. Its meant to be a portable replacement for the washing machinesized driver now used in the United States. SYNCARDIAS HEART is a modified version of the Jarvik-7 heart, which was used in the 1980s but caused problems such as stroke. The FDA placed a moratorium on it in 1990. One of the two ventricles of each heart is shown. Bill Wohl, 58, of Scottsdale, AZ, was on SynCardias heart for about five months before getting a transplant in February 2000. At the 2004 Australian Transplant Games, he won nine medals in cycling, swimming, and track and field.

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