Artificial Heart Transplant: Bridge to a Donor

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More than 3,000 people are on the waiting list for a heart transplant on any given day. Only 2,200 donor hearts are available each year. (KFSN)

More than 3,000 people are on the waiting list for a heart transplant on any given day. Only 2,200 donor hearts are available each year. For a few critically ill heart patients, the total artificial heart is their best chance for survival.

Fifty-two-year-old Bryan Tyo listens to his donor heart and smiles. Less than a year ago, he had a massive heart attack while exercising. His heart was beyond repair, but he was a good candidate for a total artificial heart, a procedure used fewer than 50 times a year as a bridge to a heart transplant.

Bryan told Ivanhoe, "Not only bought me the time, but probably saved my life, the technology did."

Bryan's wife, Risa, detailed, "They didn't have another option other than take out his heart, put in an artificial heart and then as soon as he got strong enough do a donor (heart), so definitely a breakthrough."

Shelley Hall, M.D., Chief of Transplant Cardiology at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, explained, "You're essentially removing both pumping chambers of the heart, the right ventricle and the left ventricle and replacing it with this machine that is attached to the remaining top chambers of the heart." (Read Full Interview)

Bryan waited six weeks for a donor heart, carrying his artificial heart around in a battery powered backpack.

"The waiting was the hardest part, and the reason for that is in order for me to get a heart, someone else was going to lose their life, and that was hard," said Bryan.

Bryan waited six weeks and finally, he got the call that a donor heart was available. The transplant operation was a success.

"How do you qualify the significance of a life? For him it was everything. For his wife, it was everything. For our team it was everything," Dr. Hall told Ivanhoe.

"It's the gift of life, organ donation is," said Bryan.

The total artificial heart is FDA approved only as a bridge to heart transplant, not as a permanent replacement for a failing organ.
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