Cardiac Surgeons Implant First Artificial Heart in Israeli Child

October 24, 2018

4 min read

For the first time in Israel, a left ventricular pump – an artificial heart – was implanted in the body of an 11-year-old boy.

The momentous operation was performed here 49 years after Dr. Denton Cooley implanted the first completely artificial, but temporary, heart in a human and 36 years after Seattle dentist Barney Clark became the first human to receive a permanent artificial heart – the aluminum and plastic Jarvik 7 device (he died 112 days later).

Seven years ago, 17-year-old Jordan Merecka – born with multiple congenital heart defects – underwent a history-making heart surgery at Texas Children’s Heart Center, that became the first pediatric hospital in the world to implant the SynCardia temporary artificial heart into a youngster. It gave him a chance to rehabilitate and become stronger in preparation for his heart transplant, and most importantly, the time he needed to get a well-matched donor heart.

A left-ventricle pump is different than a cardiac pump, which is an external device used to provide the functions of both the heart and the lungs; it is suitable only for use not longer than a few hours, while for the artificial heart the current record is 17 months.

Artificial heart transplantation is performed to save the lives of patients with severe heart failure or congenital defects who can no longer wait for heart transplantation or are not suitable for various reasons due to age or other chronic diseases. The artificial heart is implanted in the chest of the patient without removing his failing heart and serves as a substitute for its functioning.

Although the heart is theoretically a simple organ (basically a muscle that functions as a pump), it involves complex subtleties that make it difficult to copy the human heart by using synthetic materials and power supplies. The obvious benefit of a functional and permanent artificial heart would be to lower the need for heart transplants, because the demand for donor hearts greatly exceeds supply.

Surgery to fit a patient with an artificial heart can lead to bleeding and infection. In addition, artificial hearts don’t function like like natural ones, and parts can wear out or the electrical motor may fail. Blood doesn’t flow through artificial hearts as smoothly, and this problem can cause blood clots and even strokes. Thus, for the time being, the left ventricle pump needs to be used only for a limited time.

Twenty years ago, cardiac surgeons at Schneider performed an artificial heart transplant in a 13-year-old boy, but then it was a large artificial heart that was outside the patient’s body. About a week later, a suitable human heart was implanted in the body of the child, who is now an adult and in good condition.

Few artificial hearts have since been implanted in children anywhere in the world, but cardiac surgeons at the Rabin Medical Center-Beilinson Campus and the Schneider Children’s Medical Center in Petah Tikva, Israel felt they knew enough and that they had no choice but to try to save the teen’s life.

Michael Kahane of Ashkelon, needs a heart transplant for his long-term survival. After the deterioration of his heart became very critical, the doctors at the Schneider and Beilinson, led by cardiothoracic surgery head Prof. Dan Aravot, decided to implant the artificial heart.

This is the first time in Israel that a left ventricle pump (artificial heart) is inserted into a child’s chest.

“This is the first time in Israel that an artificial heart has been implanted inside a child’s body, not outside his body,” said Aravot. “It is possible to save the child’s life with it.”

Dr. Einat Birk, director of Schneider’s heart, added: “Michael came to us a few months ago with severe heart failure. In the past month, his situation worsened. We had to find a solution for him as soon as possible. It is exciting to see him today as he recovers and is in good condition after the unique surgery that saved his life.”

“At first, we were afraid to have the transplant done here in Israel because of the lack of the hospital’s experience in performing such a procedure, said Maor Kahane, Michael’s mother, “But after a meeting with the team of surgeons at Beilinson and Schneider, we understood that we were in safe hands. We enjoyed the amazing collaboration of the teams from the two hospitals at every stage of the process.”

She added that if awareness of organ donation were higher in Israel, “we could skip this intermediate stage of an artificial heart, which carries risks, and instead Michael could have received an human heart transplant, but there are not enough available organs.”

The mother nevertheless added with joy that the whole family were treated with “great devotion and gave us a safe and pleasant feeling in our stay here. We hope that our story will contribute to raising the awareness and importance of organ donation in Israel and will enable the rescue of both children and adults.”

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