a, Science & Technology

2011 science capsule

Living without a heart

In March of 2011, two doctors from the Texas Heart Institute Billy Cohn and Bud Frazier helped Craig Lewis set a world record. They replaced their patient’s heart with a device that allowed blood to circulate throughout his body without a pulse.

Essentially, the device uses blades to keep the blood flowing, which allows the patient to live without a detectable heartbeat or even a pulse. The device seemed effective, as Lewis was up and speaking with the physicians within 24 hours of his surgery.

Cohn and Frazier had previously tested this device on nearly 50 calves. By removing the calves’ hearts and implanting the device, they were able to monitor how the calves responded to this technology. According to the results of the study, the calves were eating, sleeping, and moving the following day. However, they were performing all of these activities without a heart pumping blood through their bodies.

Lewis suffered from amyloidosis, which was what prompted the doctors to try the surgery. Amyloidosis is a condition that occurs when abnormal proteins known as amyloid proteins build up in your organs. Treatments are available to help patients manage symptoms and limit the production of amyloid protein; however, there is no definitive cure. Without surgery, Lewis was projected to live for only another 12 hours.

Though Lewis was ultimately unable to combat the disease—he passed away five weeks after the surgery—doctors hope this technology will offer a future alternative to those with full heart failure when a pacemaker cannot solve the problem.

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