Patient given a mechanical heart

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The Independent Online
A SIXTY-TWO year old man has become the first person in Britain to receive a battery-powered heart pump as a permanent treatment for heart disease.

The device was implanted in his abdomen, where it was connected to his own heart to take over its failing pumping action. The patient, who was said by surgeons to be 'well, wide awake and in good shape' last night, is expected to be discharged within a few weeks. A battery pack worn around his waist or carried in a shoulder bag, and connected by a lead through the skin, powers the pump and will allow him to resume many normal activities.

Surgeons at Papworth Hospital, Cambridgeshire, who carried out the four-hour operation believe that the electro-mechanical device could one day replace heart transplants in some patients with end-stage heart failure, relieving the demand for donor hearts. More than 300 heart transplants are carried out annually but at least another 300 people are waiting for a heart.

The pounds 40,000 pump, known as a Left Ventricular Assist System (LVAS), has been used as a 'bridging' treatment in more than 200 patients awaiting a transplant since 1984. The Papworth patient is the first to receive the portable version as a permanent implant in a clinical trial. So-called artificial hearts - known as pneumatic devices - have been used before as a replacement for a diseased heart until a donor becomes available.

The unnamed man, from the South of England, is one of eight patients to take part in the trial. Four will receive the LVAS and four will continue with drug therapy to improve heart function. If successful the trial will be expanded to include 40 patients over the next two years at a cost of more than pounds 1m.

A German woman is believed to be the first person to have received the LVAS last month as a possible long-term treatment.

Two leading heart surgeons, Sir Terence English and Mr John Wallwork, carried out the Papworth operation on Thursday morning. Mr Wallwork said yesterday that they were optimistic but cautious: 'The importance of this trial is that it is the first of this particular concept in the world to look at its long-term use for heart failure. We don't want to compare this with transplants at this stage. But if it proves to be successful the next question is, is this device as good as a transplant?'

The British Heart Foundation last night welcomed the Papworth announcement as 'an interesting development but one that is very far down the road from replacing heart transplants'. Heart transplants are generally regarded as a successful treatment; survival rate after five years is 62 per cent.