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Heart Surgeon Dies from Complications of Heart Disease

March 8, 1990

MILWAUKEE (AP) _ Dr. Robert J. Flemma, a surgeon who led research into an artificial heart, died of heart diease. He was 56.

Flemma, who died Wednesday at St. Luke’s Medical Center, had predicted in August that a device known as the Milwaukee Heart would be available for human use in seven years.

The device is to be a wholly implanted, electrically powered heart to aid patients with cardiomyopathy, the degenerative condition that led to Flemma’s death.

″Bob had a vision of the ultimate value of an artificial instrument that could be used in situations not dissimilar to the one that led to his death,″ said Brenton H. Rupple, vice chairman of the Milwaukee Heart Research Foundation.

Flemma said human hearts were in short supply and that a reliable mechanical device was needed for the thousands of patients who die while awaiting human heart transplants.

He had been in Salt Lake City, awaiting a transplant at the University of Utah Hospital when he suffered cardiac arrest in January. After the attack, he was no longer considered a transplant candidate and never regained consciousness.

Flemma, who lived in suburban River Hills, was a clinical professor of surgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin and University of Wisconsin Medical School.

Survivors include his wife, Mary Ann, and six children.

Funeral services are scheduled for Saturday.

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