181. Life Without A Pulse

26 Aug

It is commonly held notion that without a pulse, one cannot survive. In fact before the advent of open-heart surgery a lack of a pulse was, medically speaking, death. The definition has changed of course. Now in fact, it seems that a pulse is not required.

Dr Billy Cohn and Bud Frazier at the Texas Heart Institute believed that trying to copy the heart was a waste of resources, instead they have used an existing device, a VAD which provides blood flow via the means of rotating blades and doubled it. Leaving a final contraption that they believe can fully replace the heart. “What we’ve kind of done is taken two motorcycles, strapped them together, and called it a car,” said Cohn. VADs or vascular assist devices have been around since 1994 and constantly been getting smaller and more efficient, making them the ideal technology to make a heart out of.

The full heart has only two moving parts and in all the 38 cows and one human tested, the results have been positive and it shows great promise, but many dislike the downside. There is no pulse, many fear becoming ‘human robots’ once removed from that primordial rhythm. However none of the other organs seem to care much. A pulse is a means it seems, not an end. “These pumps don’t wear out,” Frazier says. “We haven’t pumped one to failure to date.” The artificial hearts have worked effectively and the device is capable of saving the lives of those requiring heart transplants.

It is far from perfect, as bearers of the heart will require battery packs at all times, but until technology allows humanity to either grow new healthy hearts or faithfully reproduce them mechanically they are the closest to perfect most will have. The technology is good, but it’s not quite there yet.

Removing people from that primordial sound of a pulsing heart and replacing it with an imperceptible whirring of blades for some is an untenable notion. They fear becoming so-called robots, living at the expense of their hearts. For Cohn and Frazier at least, the loss of a heartbeat is:

“a small, poetic price to pay to make medical history.”

Perhaps a lack of heartbeat is disheartening, but what is preferable, languishing in a hospital bed or living with a machine in your chest? I would choose the machine in a heartbeat.

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Posted by on August 26, 2011 in Articles, Misconceptions


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