Living with an artificial heart

Canadians waiting in hospital beds for heart transplants may soon be able to wait from home and continue living relatively normal lives thanks to total artificial heart transplants.

A research team in the U.S. has shown that total artificial heart transplants can help patients suffering from severe heart failure survive until they can receive a donated heart.

In the study of 22 patients, only five had died, four had received successful heart transplants, and 13 were waiting for a suitable donor heart. Lead investigator of the study, Swaminatha Gurudevan, M.D., cardiologist at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute said that “given how sick these patients were, we expected to see higher mortality rates.” He went on to say that most of the deaths occurred among the sickest of the patients in the study.

The total artificial heart (left) received by the patients in the study compared to the human heart (right).
The total artificial heart (left) received by the patients in the study compared to the human heart (right). The total artificial heart replaces the ventricles. It attaches to the atria (the upper chambers), allowing blood to flow between the chambers through the device.

Fighting a killer

The study monitored 22 patients at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute (California) who received total artificial heart transplants in 2012 and 2013. All the patients were diagnosed with end-stage cardiomyopathy, a disease that makes the heart muscles enlarged and/or rigid, reducing the ability of the heart to pump blood throughout the body.

The patients were split into three groups based on how sick they were before receiving the total artificial transplant. The first group contained the sickest patients, who were suffering from critical cardiogenic shock. This occurs when the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. Left untreated, it has a near 100 per cent mortality rate.

Home is where the artificial heart is

Of the 13 patients waiting to receive a donor organ, eight of the patients had been discharged to wait at home with their families.

“Before, patients had to stay in the hospital while they waited for a new heart. With the artificial heart, some can wait at home and continue to conduct many of their regular activities. When patients are lying in a hospital bed for a month, it’s harder on their bodies to have major surgery.” – Dr. Swaminatha Gurudevan

Gurudevan recommends research into whether or not a total artificial heart can be used as a permanent solution, rather than being used as a bandage until a suitable organ is available.

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