In 1969, 47-year-old Haskell Karp received an artificial heart after Dr. Denton Cooley of the Texas Heart Institute in Houston determined Karp’s damaged heart could no longer pump the life saving blood through Karp’s veins. For 64 hours, this mechanical heart, developed by two of Cooley’s associates, Drs. Domingo Liotta and C. William Hall, kept Karp alive until a donor heart could be transplanted into Karp’s chest.
One must remember that heart transplants had only been possible for less than two years. Dr. Christiaan Barnard of Capetown, South Africa, had performed the first one some 16 months prior. Unfortunately, Karp died of complications of pneumonia two days after the transplant, but an artificial heart had made medical history.
The History of ‘Artificial Hearts’
In 1934, Dr. Michael DeBakey designed a “roller pump” that used two rollers to pump the blood for transfusions. In 1953, Dr. John H. Gibbon used a heart-lung machine, successfully correcting an intracardiac defect. This machine was a major step in such operations for the decades that followed. In the 1970s, Dr. Robert Jarvik designed a series of artificial hearts at the University of Utah, to which Dr. Barney Clark, a Seattle dentist, came in 1982.
Clark’s heart muscles were pumping only to a 20% efficiency when he arrived in Utah. In addition to his heart, Clark had problems with his lungs, his legs, and his abdomen. He was termed “moribund.” Clark had learned all he could of the Jarvik hearts being produced by Dr. Jarvik.
On 1 December 1982, Clark underwent the replacement surgery, and the Jarvik-7 was implanted into Clark’s chest. Using compressed air to drive the mechanism, the pump filled itself with blood from Clark’s veins and emptied the fluid into the arteries via the four artificial heart valves. Tethered to the machine, Clark tolerated pneumothorax, severe nosebleeds, kidney failure, and seizures, and after 16 weeks, he lost his battles. However, throughout the ordeal, Clark professed his “pleasure in being able to help people.”
By 1985, DeVries had performed the procedure on three other patients. The first two, William Schroeder and Murray Haydon, each survived for over a year, although they too suffered some of the same type of complications as had Clark. The fourth candidate died after only 10 days, the result of the Jarvik heart being too large for his chest cavity.