Health Team

New heart device could replace transplants

Posted May 24, 2010 5:12 p.m. EDT
Updated May 25, 2010 4:23 p.m. EDT

Clinical trials are underway to test a pump that could one day replace heart transplants. Currently, the device, called HeartWare, only serves as a temporary fix for patients waiting for a transplant.

Richard French, 54, is among those who have benefited from HeartWare. He is living without a pulse or heartbeat thanks to the new technology.

“Compared to where I was six months ago, I couldn't feel any better,” he said.

French suffered a massive heart attack last fall. After emergency bypass surgery, he woke up three weeks later with his heart barely functioning.

"To be honest, I don't remember a whole lot,” he said.

Doctors treated him with drugs but it wasn't enough. He enrolled in a clinical trial at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City to have the HeartWare device implanted in his heart.

"It's a miniaturized device that allows support of people who are in severe heart failure, and returns them to fairly normal health,” said Dr. Daniel Goldstein with Montefiore Medical Center.

HeartWare is implanted in the left ventricle. It pulls blood into the aorta and replaces the pumping function of the heart, so patients no longer have a pulse and heartbeat.

The device is connected to a tube that exits through the abdomen and hooks into a battery, which resembles a fanny pack attached to a neck strap.

Two months after receiving HeartWare, French returned to work.

"It's great," he said. "I can't even overstate it because the alternative to not having it is something I really can't even contemplate."

French could receive a new heart as early as this year.

HeartWare clinical trials are taking place at 28 facilities across the United States. HeartWare is already commercially available in Europe.