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Seven Former Artificial Heart Patients Reunited

May 18, 1987

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Seven men who received Jarvik artificial hearts as a bridge to transplantatio n gathered Sunday for an emotional reunion with the doctors and nurses who helped save their lives.

″We’re all one big, happy family,″ said a smiling Tom Gaidosh, 48, of Sutersville, Pa., who in October 1985 was the first Jarvik recipient at Presbyterian-University Hospital of Pittsburgh.

″Put together by chance,″ agreed Sheldon Ceo, 27, of Aliquippa, Pa., who received his mechanical pump last December.

Eight of Presbyterian-University’s 14 artificial heart recipients are alive, including the latest, Noah Miller Jr., 39, of Shinnstown, W.Va., who remains hospitalized and could not attend the reunion.

The other six recipients were killed by infection or rejection of the transplanted organs that replaced their plastic pumps.

″Those people gave us something, and I think we should carry on what they were trying to do,″ said Carrie Howard of Holland Patent, N.Y., whose husband, John, 45, is among the survivors.

Dr. Bartley P. Griffith, who has implanted all of the hospital’s Jarviks, said all of the patients and their families were aware of the risks.

″There was no misrepresentation,″ Griffith said. ″It’s a 50-50 flip,″

The deceased patients ″would have died anyway,″ he said. ″But they chose to help others. It’s the Barney Clark story all over again,″ Griffith said, referring to the world’s first permanent artificial heart recipient.

Clark survived 112 days with a Jarvik-7 following his implant in 1982. Three other men received the pump as a permanent device, implanted by Dr. William DeVries at Humana Hospital-Audubon in Louisville, Ky. Another was implanted in Sweden. The longest survival with the device was 620 days.

In all, as of March 31, 66 people have received an artificial heart of some sort, most of them Jarvik-7 pumps, according to the University of Utah’s Dr. Don Olsen, who keeps a world registry. Twenty-seven of them are still alive.

The parents of one of the dead Pittsburgh patients, George Nicholas, attended Sunday’s reunion in their son’s memory. Standing quietly at their side was another son and a daughter.

Nicholas, 42, of Elkview, W.Va., died in July, two months after receiving a Jarvik and subsequent human heart.

″He would have wanted us to be here because he loved life and wanted to live,″ his mother, Myrtle Nicholas, said, brushing away tears. The artificial heart ″did give us two more months with him that we would not have had.″

Some of the seven survivors spoke with the Nicholases, consoling them and filling them in about their own everyday lives. Among themselves, the seven chatted like lifelong friends, joking with one another and comparing notes as about 75 relatives and friends took their pictures and showed off family snapshots.

Other Jarvik recipients were Joseph Burello, 40, of New Alexandria; Edmund McDermott, 33, of Scranton; Wilbur Bell, 55, of Chicora; and Alfred Steffen, 56, of Bellbrook, Ohio.

Although their futures are far from secure - they could succumb to infection or rejection at any time - the seven survivors look to the future with hope and are told they could live a normal life span. And they don’t dwell on past agonies or pains.

″I don’t think about those days anymore,″ Gaidosh said. ″I live what’s left.″

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