Man kept his old heart in the closet

Man kept his old heart in the closet

Artificial heart: life with a metal pump
30 years ago, the first German patient received an artificial heart. The seriously ill man did not live long afterwards. A lot has happened since then. Today there are far fewer complications and the quality of life has improved significantly for the majority of those affected.

Not enough donor organs
According to the German Foundation for Organ Transplantation (DSO), more than 10,000 seriously ill patients in Germany are currently waiting for a donor organ. Some have to be removed from the waiting list due to poor general condition, others die because no organ is available in time. While it is gratifying that the number of organ donors has increased after years of decline, these are far from sufficient. If patients need a heart, there is often the option of using an artificial organ. The metal pumps have been implanted in Germany for 30 years. The dpa news agency reports on the first patient to whom an artificial heart was inserted in this country and what has happened since then.

Artificial heart to remember in the living room cabinet
For two years, Frank Baier (name changed) had two hearts in his chest: his own, too weak heart and an artificial heart, which largely took over the work. Today Baier keeps the artificial heart in his living room closet as a souvenir. "I am glad that I am rid of it," said the 50-year-old. However, he is grateful for the artificial pump - after all, it saved his life. Artificial hearts have been around for 30 years now. Unlike other muscles, the human heart can regenerate itself if it can recover for a while. The artificial hearts help. The reason why the heart can regenerate is not yet clear. "Other mechanisms apply to the heart muscle, which have not all been researched yet," explained Thomas Krabatsch, senior physician at the German Heart Center Berlin (DHZB).

Batteries for the heart charged on the cigarette lighter
According to dpa, suffering began at Baier in January 2011. "I didn't feel good, I could hardly breathe. My wife got an ambulance there, ”said the Berliner. As he explained, memory only started again when he woke up from the coma in the heart center - a month later. "My first thoughts were: Where am I here, what's next to me?" A cable protruded from his belly, connecting the artificial heart with batteries and controllers that were in a pocket next to his bed. "I wanted to get rid of the thing right away, but I slowly understood that it stays with me day and night," said Baier, who had a severe myocarditis at the time. "The worst thing was that I was no longer allowed to shower and bathe." The risk of a short circuit or a new infection was simply too great. Baier could rely on the technology: "The device never failed." He had to charge the two batteries, each with a runtime of six hours, regularly. “That was also possible while driving the cigarette lighter. And at night I was able to connect the batteries to the socket and sleep with peace of mind, ”said the former dealer.

The first patient did not live long
In the past, the patients were far less flexible. "About ten years ago, the pumps were driven by compressors the size of a refrigerator," said Krabatsch. And when Emil Bücherl planted an artificial heart for the first patient in Germany 30 years ago in Berlin, mobility was out of the question. The “Berlin artificial heart” he developed was considered a sensation at the time, the doctor one of the pioneers in the field. However, his first patient lived only a short time. After the artificial pump was inserted on March 7, 1986, the 39-year-old patient had a donor heart just four days later and died of complications shortly afterwards. But a lot has happened since then. "Nowadays, patients can go home with their cardiac support system, there are significantly fewer complications, and the duration is definitely longer," said the spokesman for the German Cardiac Technology Association, Johannes Gehron.

Patient has been living without complications for ten years
In the past, patients would have had problems such as strokes again after three or four years. "Now a patient has been presented at the Hannover Medical School who has been free of complications for ten years," said Gehron. Years ago, the MHH reported on the European record that they achieved with the “Heartmate II” cardiac support system. In 2014, a new “Heartmate III” artificial heart was implanted at the clinic in Lower Saxony for the first time worldwide. Nationwide, the number of artificial hearts used annually almost tripled from 2005 to 2015 to 1,000.

Ideally, artificial heart is replaced by donor heart
Ideally, an artificial heart will later be replaced by a donor heart. However, the number of donors could not meet the growing need. According to data from the German Society for Thoracic, Cardiac and Vascular Surgery (DGTHG), the number of heart transplants decreased again in 2015, from 294 in 2014 to 283. In 1998, the previous record year, there were 526 heart transplants. Another downward trend is feared by the DGTHG. The doctors therefore dream of an artificial heart without a cable that can be totally implanted. According to Krabatsch, it has already happened that patients pinched the cable in a car door without being noticed and died. Or stood in a traffic jam and could not charge the batteries. Frank Baier is no longer dependent on sockets today: "I didn't want to live with it in the long run," he said, looking at the device. Of course, he was still lucky that his doctor ventured the procedure at the time. According to the dpa, around 2,250 patients have had an artificial pump at the heart center in Berlin since the 1980s. Only 100 of them were able to remove the artificial heart. It is said that only three of these patients had their own hearts not strong enough in the long run. "They needed an artificial heart again," says Krabatsch. (ad)

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