Dec. 14 - With the number of donor hearts too low to meet the demand from cardiac patients, the use of temporary total artificial hearts is becoming more commonplace. And the technology is advancing to the point where some heart surgeons believe a permanent, artificial heart may soon be an option for some patients. Jim Drury has more.
New Yorker Daquain Jenkins takes comfort in the the repetitive beat that accompanies him everywhere he goes. Far from being annoying, It's a vivid reminder that his implanted artificial heart is working. UPSOT: JENKINS SAYING (OFF CAMERA): "This shows my beats per minute, my flow volume, and my cardio output....This is the batteries and how we check the chargers. You push these down." The father-of-three was diagnosed with congestive heart failure three years ago aged 25 and given a transplant. But the heart failed in August, and had to be removed. It was replaced by a temporary Total Artificial Heart that will keep Daquain alive until another donor heart becomes available. DAQUAIN JENKINS, NEW YORK CITY'S FIRST RECIPIENT OF A PORTABLE TOTAL ARTIFICIAL HEART, SAYING: "Air travels through the lines, up until here, and these tubes that are hanging out are connected to the artificial heart that's in here using air and uses air to pump the valves, the artificial valves that are in here that pumps the blood throughout me and keeps me alive. My lifeline." The plastic organ, developed by US company SynCardia, replaces the two lower heart chambers, the ventricles, which pump blood through the body. It enables patients like Jenkins to live at home while waiting for a donor heart. It can last for two hours on battery power when not plugged into an outlet. Dr. Anelechi Anyanwu who performed Jenkins's operation, says the technonology goes back three decades. SOUNDBITE (English) DR. ANELECHI ANYANWU, JENKINS' CARDIOTHORACIC SURGEON, SAYING: "In a way it's just a crude mechanical pump that just moves blood in one direction and that's where we are now, but there are several developments going on, for example to make smaller pumps, to have better power supplies and ultimately to have a pump that the whole mechanism of the pump is within the body." Last month the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved this heart pump made by HeartWare International. Steven Tsui, one of the UK's foremost cardiac surgeons, thinks it's an exciting development. SOUNDBITE (English) STEVEN TSUI (PRON: SOO-EEY), CARDIAC SURGEON AND DIRECTOR OF TRANSPLANTATION AT PAPWORTH HOSPITAL, SAYING: "The reason why this is so much better than older devices is because it is much more effective and efficient in power consumption so the same battery would last a lot longer for the patient. It is completely silent in operation and the small driveline means that the exit site through the skin will be much easier for the patient to manage and therefore may reduce the complication rate associated with the use of these devices." Czech fireman Jakub Halik recently survived for six months with a Heartmate 2 device after an aggressive tumour necessitated his heart's removal. Halik died in October of liver failure but his surgeon Jan Pirk believes the Holy Grail of a permanent synthetic heart replacement is getting nearer. SOUNDBITE (Czech) CARDIOLOGIST PROF. JAN PIRK SAYING: "I'm convinced that new pumps fully able to replace the heart function will be discovered in the future. It's not the case yet, but they can already function to help the left heart chamber work properly. With this pump some patients have lived for seven years." SynCardia has implanted more than 1,000 of its devices and given almost 300 years of extra life to its patients, keeping them alive long enough to receive a real heart. Daquain Jenkins calls SynCardia and his doctors miracle workers. His heart backpack gives him an unexpected degree of freedom and a chance at life. UPSOT: JENKINS SAYS: "It's nice outside. I like it."