heart transplant
1:39 pm
Thu March 22, 2012

Man walks out of Seattle hospital with no heartbeat (just a pump)

Of all the organs to take out of your body, the heart is the most dramatic. About 90 people in the Pacific Northwest are on a wait-list for a heart transplant. While they're waiting, many are confined to bed, for months or even years at a time, with an artificial heart connected to a 418-pound pump. 

A new artificial heart allows them to walk around, and, now, even leave the hospital. It’s still considered experimental, although it’s been used more than 1,000 times around the world.

The first person to walk onto the streets of Seattle with an artificial heart—plus its external battery pack—exited the University of Washington Medical Center on Wednesday.

Chris Marshall described what it feels like, and Dr. Nahush Mokadam, a heart transplant surgeon from the UW, explained some of the details, in an interview.

“I feel quite a bit of vibration in my body, so it feels like all the cells in my body are alive. But I'm getting used to the sensation. I feel very good,” says Marshall, 51, of Wasilla, Alaska. He adds that he’s been walking four miles a day, before his discharge, by doing laps inside the hospital ward.

“When he first came to us at the end of January, the function of his heart was pumping less than ten percent. Normally its 65 percent,” says Dr. Mokadam, who explains a full heart transplant was necessary because both the left and right sides of Marshall’s heart were failing, and he’d been in and out of the hospital multiple times in the previous year.

The artificial heart itself, from SynCardia Systems, costs $124,000, according to Dr. Mokadam, and the procedure plus hospitalization ran about $250,000. That’s all in preparation for a heart transplant, which would likely push the total expense over a million dollars. So far, it’s been covered by Marshall’s insurance carrier.

Heart transplant patients from the UW (one of five centers in the Northwest that perform total heart transplants) typically live about 15 years, says Dr. Mokadam.