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    A patient gains heart with an artificial device
    By Amanda Dunn

    Health Reporter

    September 25, 2003

    Until a few weeks ago, a failing heart had left 75-year-old Henry Nathan with angina, shortness of breath and a struggle to walk short distances.

    But since he became the second person in the world to receive a new-style artificial heart, he feels fabulous.

    "It means a new life," he said yesterday. "It's as simple as that."

    Four weeks ago, a team at The Alfred hospital, led by cardiac surgeon Don Esmore, implanted in Mr Nathan's chest a device called Ventrassist - an artificial heart that sits below the left ribs and takes over the work of the left ventricle, helping the heart to pump. The patient's heart remains intact.

    Mr Nathan is the second in a pilot study of 10 heart failure patients who will have the device installed.

    The titanium alloy device, designed by Sydney company Ventricor, is much smaller than previous models. A wire attached to the artificial heart leaves the body near the navel and connects to a battery pack, which can be held or worn on the patient's belt.

    The first patient in the trial had the device implanted about three months ago, was out of hospital and doing well, Mr Esmore said. And Mr Nathan's recovery had been "quite dramatic", he said.

    Before the operation, Mr Nathan "went from having angina and shortness of breath to heart failure, and had multiple admissions to hospital with heart failure, and was functioning at a very low level with poor quality of life and life expectancy", Mr Esmore said.

    He had also had two previous operations for coronary disease, but although they were successful, his heart had again weakened over time.

    Earlier models of artificial hearts were still used and were effective, Mr Esmore said. But they had other problems - they are too large for use in young people and many women, or cause problems with blood clots.

    'It means a new life. It's as simple as that.'
    - HENRY NATHAN, artificial heart patient

    Ventrassist appeared to be an improvement on both counts, he said, and also reduced the risk of post-operative infection.

    "The smaller pumps get, the less of a problem patients seem to have," Mr Esmore said.

    Ventrassist could be used as a permanent support for the heart or as a "bridging" device while a patient waited for a transplant.

    If the initial trial is successful - it is hoped to be completed within a year - a larger Australian trial will be undertaken.

    Cardiologist David Kaye said heart failure was a growing problem, with estimates suggesting that up to 30 per cent of people in their 70s might have the condition.

    Dr Kaye hoped Mr Nathan would be released from hospital by the end of the week.

    Mr Nathan was looking forward to returning to full form on the bowling green and continuing his work with Heartbeat, an organisation he set up to support heart disease patients and their families.

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