Medicine today might have seemed like science fiction years ago . The wooden legs of the pirates were replaced by articulated prostheses that allow amputees to walk and sometimes even drive. The famous hook hand has become a practical prosthesis that in many cases allows you to hold cutlery and why not write. Even what used to be gold teeth can be replaced by implants that turn out to be identical replicas of the original tooth.
There are not a few parts of our body that can be replaced by prostheses and artificial mechanisms in case of failure. But the issue can be more complicated if we talk about vital and complex organs such as the heart.
Could the heart be replaced?
I’m sure the answer will surprise you, because yes, you can live without a heart.
This does not mean that everything we have been told in school about the human body is a lie. The heart is still an essential organ , but there is an alternative when it fails. And I am not referring to transplants, since whoever has a heart transplant obviously still has a heart.
It is true that these transplants exist and that they usually show very good results, but their big problem lies in how difficult they are to achieve. There are not enough organs to go around and those who need them are often on waiting lists for years; a time that sometimes you don’t have and that unfortunately don’t reach your expected heart replacement.
In addition, transplants are not recommended in the case of a malignant tumor in the heart, because the drugs administered to prevent the immune system from rejecting the new organ support the tumor process of the cells, weakening our ability to fight infections. .
So it is for all this that prosthetic hearts exist, completely artificial pieces capable of replacing a dysfunctional heart.
These prostheses consist of two plastic pumps that perform the functions of the right and left sides of the heart. One sends blood through the aorta, and the other to the lungs.
The first implants of these devices failed to extend patients’ lives beyond a few days , but results have improved greatly over the years. The first success story was a 37 – year – old Czech citizen who had been diagnosed with a malignant tumor and managed to survive for more than six months with these pumps instead of his heart . This case was the one that showed that it is possible to live without a pulse, since it had a heart that did not beat .
The patient was able to walk, and even use the hospital gym. It shouldn’t be surprising that I wasn’t able to run or exert myself, and this is because the device’s revs are set for normal activity. The artificial heart is unable to react to stress and change its pumping speed . Although nothing says that these features can not be incorporated in the future.
Another successful case was that of a 25-year-old American who, along with his brother , had been diagnosed with familial dilative cardiomyopathy , a disease that progresses to heart failure. When the brothers arrived at the hospital in 2014, their condition was too serious to wait for transplants, so there was no alternative but to replace their hearts with prosthetic hearts until they got them. His brother got it quickly, in 2015, but he had to wait longer and live 17 months with this device that pumped blood for him.
The boy already has a real donated heart , but this device allowed him to buy essential time until he got it. And this is what these prostheses are mainly used for today. Until now, not many people have been placed, and those who are cannot live many more years with them, but they gain a few priceless months (and sometimes years) of life that they would not have had otherwise and that allow them to wait for the coveted organ that will guarantee their long-term survival.
The device requires a power supply that uses batteries, which generally last between 8 and 12 hours, and is carried as a backpack or fanny pack. It must be carried at all times, but its size and weight do not prevent it from leading a relatively normal life. An example of the impressive reach that technology is having in the field of medicine.
It is intriguing to know if these devices could one day extend people’s lives beyond a few months, and come to be considered as a lifelong prosthesis. Years ago it would have been unthinkable, but I think we have all learned to be open to any surprise that science throws at us.
Antretter H, Dumfarth J, Höfer D. Das komplett künstliche Herz [Total artificial heart]. Med Klin Intensivmed Notfmed. 2015 Sep;110(6):431-7. German. doi: 10.1007/s00063-015-0060-9. Epub 2015 Aug 22. PMID: 26296374.Beaupré RA, Frazier OH, Morgan JA. Total artificial heart implantation as a bridge to transplantation: a viable model for the future? Expert Rev Med Devices. 2018 Oct;15(10):701-706. doi: 10.1080/17434440.2018.1524294. Epub 2018 Sep 26. PMID: 30221561.