In the past, surgeons at Brigham and Women's Hospital were reluctant to implant artificial hearts because patients were effectively sequestered at the hospital, thus severely compromising their quality of life. However, in the last two years, new technology has become available which allows artificial heart recipients to go home with an external driver that powers the manmade hearts.
"We envision that somewhere between two to five cases a year of total artificial hearts at Brigham and Women's Hospital," said Couper. "This is in the context of a total of 25-30 patients needing heart transplants. We will do 10-20 LVADs for every artificial heart."
Some physicians agree that LVADs will continue to be more commonly used than artificial hearts.
"LVADs are a much more common and less complex bridge [for heart transplants]," said Dr. Marc Gillinov, a cardiac surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic.
"There are LVADs that are now the size of Double A batteries," Gillinov added. "They…look promising and could help people and perhaps prevent them from getting to the stage of needing a whole new heart."
However, other physicians are more optimistic about the use of artificial hearts.
"There are many specific indications that cannot be rescued with LVADs," said Dr. Jack Copeland, a transplant surgeon at the University of California at San Diego, who performed the first successful bridge-to-transplant with an artificial heart in 1985. "Total artificial hearts have been found to salvage the sickest patients while the LVAD often fails."
"I see the artificial heart as a useful tool," said Copeland. "I suspect that…the artificial heart is going to succeed medically and commercially."
In the end, Feusner spent two and a half months at the University of Maryland Medical Center. He received an artificial heart, which kept him alive long enough to get a donor heart five weeks later.
"The experience with the artificial heart was good," said Feusner. "It kept me alive….because the LVAD wasn't an option.
"The artificial heart absolutely saved my life."
About a month ago, Feusner was sent home from rehabilitation. Today he can stand up on his own and walk around the house if he uses a walker. His appetite has returned.
And most importantly, he's been able to spend quality time with his 3-year-old granddaughter.
"By all accounts it's been amazing," he said. "What the doctors did was amazing."