Artificial Heart Recipient Makes First Public Appearance
After seven weeks of anonymity, 59-year-old Robert Tools, the first patient to receive a totally enclosed artificial heart, spoke publicly yesterday about living with experimental device, the Washington Post reports. Noting that the more than four-pound plastic-and-titanium heart, called the AbioCor, was "a little heavy," Tools said, "I'm still getting used to it," adding, "And the biggest thing is getting used to not having a heartbeat, except here I have a whirring sound and that makes me realize that I'm alive because I can hear it without a stethoscope" (Cooper, Washington Post, 8/22). Tools, who has had two heart attacks, quadruple bypass surgery and suffers from congestive heart failure and diabetes, was ineligible for a heart transplant because of his "extremely poor health." On June 26, Tools visited Louisville, Ky.-based Jewish Hospital, one of five sites selected to conduct a clinical trial on the AbioCor, and on July 2, surgeons replaced his diseased heart with the device (Mestel, Los Angeles Times, 8/22). Although Tools has suffered some setbacks, including intestinal bleeding and breathing difficulty, doctors say he is "rebounding" and could eventually resume some of his favorite activities, including fishing (Davis, USA Today, 8/22).
According to Dr. Laman Gray, one of the surgeons who implanted the artificial heart, Tools could eventually be eligible for a heart transplant if his health continues to improve. The Los Angeles Times reports that the AbioCor, which was developed by Massachusetts-based Abiomed, could help reduce the "huge gap" between the supply and demand for heart transplants; nearly 100,000 Americans each year could benefit from heart transplants (Los Angeles Times, 8/22). Gray said, "There's a very large portion of our population who have what we call sort of the end stage coronary artery disease. ... I would envision at some point in the future that possibly these people who really can't be treated today -- we might be able to offer them a total artificial heart and they could then lead a productive life for many, many years to come" (NPR, "All Things Considered," 8/21). Still, some heart experts "urged caution" about the device. Patrick McCarthy, director of heart transplantation at the Cleveland Clinic, questioned the number of people who could be helped by artificial hearts. He said, "It is the first step on a long road. ... We should be looking at other alternatives that are less radical that make artificial hearts the last resort. We are looking for other, simpler answers" (Washington Post, 8/22).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.