Artificial hearts giving hope, saving lives

August 19, 2011 5:03:45 PM PDT
What happens when you are dying of heart disease, and you won't live long enough for a transplant? One Houston hospital has a new go-to plan: the artificial heart.

In the past month, it's saved the lives of four dying people and some of them may soon go home with only a manmade pump beating in their bodies.

Ken Woychesin had a heart attack at 26, a transplant at 34 and five years later, he was dying again.

"I was like I can't believe this, you know," Woychesin said.

"Most people pray for things, and we pray for one more day," said his wife, Jennifer Woychesin.

In July, Texas Heart Institute surgeons said he couldn't wait for another transplant and offered him an artificial heart.

"We're gonna cut your heart in half and we're gonna put these two manmade ventricles in you," Ken Woychesin recalled them saying.

With no other options, he agreed. And for three weeks, he's been tethered to this giant machine that pumps for him. But he's getting stronger, taking mile walks every day.

"What's the weirdest thing about walking with a 400-pound console behind you?" we asked him.

"It don't bother me, you know; as long as they can push it, I just keep walking," he replied.

Ninety-year-old Dr. Denton Cooley, who implanted the world's first artificial heart 42 years ago, is enthused.

"Here within the space of a 10-day period, we put in four total replacements of a human heart. It's quite an amazing accomplishment," Dr. Cooley said.

"If everything goes right, I could be home in the next week," Ken Woychesin said.

Because he will switch to a 13-pound battery that will allow him to go home.

"They can ride bicycles, they can go to the store, they can do their daily activities, which before they couldn't do because they couldn't go home," said Dr. Igor Gregoric, who performed the artificial heart surgery.

So very soon, four people who are living by the grace of a manmade pump, will leave the hospital that started it all. And wait for a transplant at home.

"We're really blessed, we really are," Jennifer Woychesin said.

Ken and his wife told us they are very grateful to the surgeons and researchers who spent 40 years perfecting the artificial heart. Research continues at Texas Heart Institute, building smaller and better mechanical hearts.

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