This Day in History (19-Feb-1985) – William J. Schroeder becomes the first recipient of an artificial heart to leave hospital

An artificial heart is a device that replaces the heart. Artificial hearts are typically used to bridge the time to heart transplantation, or to permanently replace the heart in case heart transplantation is impossible. Although other similar inventions preceded it going back to the late 1940s, the first artificial heart to be successfully implanted in a human was the Jarvik-7, designed by Robert Jarvik and implemented in 1982. Dr. Kolff implanted the Jarvik 7 artificial heart into Barney Clark, a dentist from Seattle who was suffering from severe congestive heart failure. While Clark lived for 112 days tethered to an external pneumatic compressor, a device weighing some 400 pounds (180 kg), during that time he suffered prolonged periods of confusion and a number of instances of bleeding, and asked several times to be allowed to die.

On November 25, 1984, Schroeder became the second human recipient of the Jarvik 7. The transplant was performed at Humana Heart Institute International in Louisville, Kentucky by Dr. William C. DeVries. After 18 days, he suffered the first of a series of strokes. He died on August 7, 1986 of a lung infection, 620 days after receiving the Jarvik 7. This was the longest that anyone had survived with an artificial heart at that time. His survival showed that people could live long-term on the plastic and metal device. But the strokes and other complications they suffered impaired the quality of their lives and blunted initial enthusiasm for the heart. The seriousness of the complications suffered by artificial-heart recipients prompted suggestions that developers of the device take another look at its basic design.

The headstone marking Schroeder’s grave is made of black granite in the shape of two overlapping hearts. One is laser engraved with an image of the Jarvik 7.

After the first five permanent cases, the Jarvik 7 heart became more widely used as a temporary total artificial heart, bridging patients to transplant. One of the patients was bridged from the Jarvik 7 heart to a human heart that gave him fourteen more years of normal life. Since 1982, more than 350 patients have used the Jarvik 7 heart, and it remains in use today.



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