Texas Man Pioneers Use of Beatless Heart, the Wave of the Future

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No Pulse, No Pledge of Allegiance

The new machine relies on two simple whirling rotors, spinning blood throughout the body in a continuous flow, addressing previous problems with clotting, thrombosis and bleeding.

"I think it's fascinating," said Dr. Jay Pal, assistant professor of cardiothoracic surgery at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.

Left ventricular assist devices, like the one that keeps alive former Vice President Dick Cheney, only help those with failure of the left side of the heart. This device, essentially two designed to accommodate both sides, can help those with right-side failure or both.

Lewis had not been a candidate for an assist pump because his left ventricle was too badly damaged by disease, and his right ventricle had also failed.

"It certainly provides more options for people who are living with advanced heart failure, and results like these show a lot of promise and move the field forward," said Pal.

Dr. Abel DeAnda, chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Bellevue Hospital Center in New York City, agrees. "This would be the wave of the future, in my opinion, the logical next step in this technology."

He said the dual rotors make the beatless heart "less mechanical with fewer parts that can fail.

"These artificial hearts will be more efficient and less costly and more successful devices -- what we have been looking for," said DeAnda. "For the number of patients who potentially need this, we have eliminated the downsides."

But the psychological aspect of the beatless heart may be its biggest drawback, even though the body doesn't seem to need a pulse.

"Who knows," said Cohn. "Where will you put your hand when you say the Pledge of Allegiance? But there is a real shortage of donor organs and 300,000 people with heart disease die each year.

"Really, only the most fortunate patients have the opportunity to get a transplant," he said. "If you had something you can take off the shelf and sew into the body with the heart that fails, you can provide hope for hundreds of thousands of patients."

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