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Heart Patient’s Life Owed to Two Mechanical Pumps

March 25, 1985

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ A man owes his life to a pair of $250 pumps that functioned as his heart following surgery, in a process doctors say may eventually be more widely used than mechanical heart implants, a newspaper reported.

The mechanical pumps, called ventricular assist devices, were hooked up to the 60-year-old doctor for more than four days last month in the first successful use of two of the devices at the same time, doctors told the Pittsburgh Press in an article published on Sunday.

The pumps were disconnected after the man’s own heart regained stregth and resumed beating.

Medical authorities said Dr. George Magovern’s procedure may indicate that the pumps can be used to keep patients alive after their hearts stop and before donor hearts are found for transplants, the Press said.

″It is a procedure that is far less costly and less invasive than implanting a full mechanical heart,″ said Magovern, 61.

The Bio-pumps have been used, one at a time, for short periods on thousands of occasions during open heart surgery and in emergencies when the heart fails to function normally.

″His approach may be less dramatic, but in the long run, more significant and have a much wider use than the efforts at Hershey and Humana hospitals in using totally mechanical hearts,″ said Dr. Richard Heppner, chief of cardiology at West Penn Hospital in Pittsburgh.

″Magovern’s work reflects the mainstream thinking and should be carefully followed,″ Heppner said.

The patient, a physician and father of 12 whose name was not released, was listed in serious condition Sunday, a hospital spokeswoman said.

The patient underwent double coronary bypass surgery on Feb. 22, but hours later his heart developed a severely irregular and life-threatening beat. The pumps were then hooked up.

″For 48 hours, his heart was dead. There was no electrical activity,″ said Dr. Sang Park, a senior heart surgeon at Allegheny General Hospital, where the operation was performed.

″On the third day it began gently contracting,″ Park said. ″Then slowly the heart started pumping. First very slowly, but it grew stronger as the hours passed.″

Four days and two hours after the pumps were applied, they were shut off.

During the procedure, one pump performed the functions of the heart’s left ventricle, moving blood through the aorta to the rest of the body, while the other took over the job of the right ventricle, pumping blood to the lungs.

The Bio-pumps are normally used on only one side of the heart.

″For more than four days the pumps did the work of a heart that wouldn’t function,″ Magovern said. ″Our research has shown that if you can support a sick or dying heart, let it rest, it frequently will regain the energy it needs to function.″

Last month’s use of two pumps was the third try by the Allegheny General surgeons. Two years ago their first patient died before the pumps could be started. Last year another patient was successfully taken off the double pumps, but he died soon afterward of an unrelated cause, Magovern said.

Mechanical hearts are keeping two men alive at Humana Hospital Audobon in Louisville, Ky., while surgeons at Hershey Medical Center have received permission for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to implant a heart developed at Pennsylvania State University.

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