Artificial Heart

Written by Science Knowledge on 3:59 AM

Did the wrong man get credit for the world’s first permanent pump?

In January 1982 surgeons at the University of Utah implanted the first permanent artificial heart into Barney Clark, a 61-year-old dentist from Seattle who was hours from death as he went into the operating room. He would live another 112 days. The work was a triumph for Willem Kolff, founder of the university’s Division of Artificial Organs and head of the team that developed Clark’s new heart. Yet in the weeks that followed the surgery, Kolff’s name began to be left out of the frantic media coverage. Nearly three decades later he has been all but forgotten. Perhaps he should have named the heart after himself.

Kolff was already one of the world’s foremost inventors of artificial organs when he moved in 1967 from the Cleveland Clinic to Utah. Ten years earlier he had invented the first working artificial kidney; that same year he began work on a heart. At Utah, Kolff led a team of more than 200 doctors and scientists who were pushing to advance the field of artificial organs. In 1971 he hired Robert Jarvik, a budding researcher in biomechanics who seemed to have a knack for engineering. Jarvik began medical school the next year and continued to work on improving the heart through his graduation in 1976. Kolff had a tradition of naming new versions of the heart after young investigators in his lab to keep them motivated and prevent them from moving elsewhere. Jarvik was project manager for the iteration that came to be named Jarvik-7. That device was approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration in 1981. Jarvik was 35 years old when Clark received the heart that bore his name. He appeared at the press conference that announced the implant in scrubs, although he did not take part in the surgery. Jarvik continued to attend press conferences at the center, while Kolff kept a low profile. Perhaps it is not surprising that the world came to associate a seminal piece of engineering—the work of hundreds, over a course of years— with one man. After all, it had his name on it.

Source of Information : Scientific American September 2009

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