Denton Cooley tried to implant one in the 1960s, an act that led to the great feud between him and Dr. Michael DeBakey. The war is chronicled in Tommy Thompson’s wonderful book, HEARTS.
When I was training at the Texas Heart Institute, founded and directed by Dr. Cooley, the device was still undergoing its growing pains, but in recent years artificial hearts have vastly improved. There are folks out there with what are called Left Ventricular Assist Devices (LVADs), basically mechanical boosters for the heart, who have been walking around, playing sports, and doing very well for many years.
LVADs pump blood from the left ventricle (the heart’s main pumping chamber that sends blood out to the body) into the aorta (the main artery leaving the heart). When a heart has been damaged and is failing at its primary function of circulating an adequate volume of blood to the body, an LVAD can boost the heart’s output. The LVAD was designed to assist a weak heart and keep the person alive while awaiting a donor for a heart transplant. But the newer devices are so effective that some patients have removed themselves from the transplant list as they are doing just fine with the mechanical device. Some for nearly a decade now.
Now the group at Rome’s Bambino Gesu Hospital has implanted the world’s smallest LVAD into a 16 month old. It weighs only 11 grams and is smaller than the surgeons little finger. This is amazing stuff.